PEOPLE who live along Save and Odzi Rivers in Manicaland province are at risk of contracting cancer and other diseases as diamond mining companies in Marange are dumping dangerous chemicals into the rivers, a recent biological and chemical study has shown.
The study, carried out early this month by the University of Zimbabwe on behalf of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela), says diamond mining operations had resulted in massive siltation, chemical and heavy metal pollution of the two rivers. It said the two rivers showed high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water, elements which are the major constituents of ferro-silicon (FSESI), a chemical compound used in diamond extraction.
“Chromium and nickel are potentially carcinogenic agents (cancer-causing agents) and therefore they pose an immediate health risk to people and livestock,” says the study. “The high levels of iron in the water suggest that the local population could be at risk of iron poisoning, as they exceeded stipulated WHO standards.” According to the study, high levels of fluoride in the water pose the risk of diseases such as dental and skeletal fluorosis. Dental fluorosis relates to the poor development of the teeth while skeletal fluorosis is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride.
There is also a high level of bacterial contamination in the rivers, “posing an immediate risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.” The pollution of the two rivers has also adversely affected the sources of livelihood of thousands of households that live along the rivers in four districts of Chipinge, Chimanimani, Buhera and Mutare West.
It has also deprived the communities of clean water for drinking, gardening, fishing, livestock watering and even bathing. “When in contact with the skin, the water and the mud cause an itching sensation,” says the study, titled Report on the Scientific Investigation of the Impact of Marange Diamond Mining Operations in Water Quality in Save and Odzi Rivers: Including Assessment of the health, Environmental and Livelihoods Impacts.
Zela co-ordinator, Shamiso Mtisi said the water pollution problem and environmental degradation needed to be addressed before people and livestock died. “The companies must put all necessary infrastructure to process all waste water to ensure the safety of people and livestock that depend on water from the rivers,” he said. Presently, four diamond mining companies – Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC), Anjin, Marange Resources and Mbada – are mining gems in Marange.
“The mines need to construct tailings dams which act as sedimentation ponds,” recommended the report.
‘Firms not concerned about health’
Acting chairperson of the Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (CCDT), Malvern Mudiwa said diamond mining firms operating in Marange were not concerned about the welfare of the local communities. “These companies do not have the welfare of the communities at heart because they are endangering the lives of thousands of people,” said Mudiwa. “Government will only wake up when people and livestock start dying but this might take long. These two rivers will soon dry up because of siltation, already they are getting smaller and smaller.”
Efforts to get comments from the Minister of Mines and Mining Development, Obert Mpofu, and the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhema, were fruitless last week.