The positive side of mining

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By Angela Mutiso

From Excavation to Conservation

The basis of modern society relies a lot on the mining industry. Almost every mineral or metal in use today stems from mining.  This is a centuries-old practice that has stood the test of time despite evolving global forces and technological developments.

Let us look at the complex realm of the mining sector, and its profound significance in shaping the past and the future as well as its environmental impact. Mining involves extracting valuable resources or materials from the Earth’s crust. There are many types of mining. However, Mineral Mining is the most common association with the term. It involves digging out valuable minerals or ores, like coal, iron, copper, gold, diamonds, and many more, from the Earth’s surface. These minerals are then processed and perfected for various manufacturing and commercial uses.

The extraction often needs specialized techniques, equipment, and expertise. Mining is key to almost every facet of our lives, from construction to the technological innovations that advance our lives. But we must be vigilant of the broader balance of benefits and impacts and how mining operations should be carried out.

Mining is almost unavoidable in the world we are living in today, but it must be viable. According to the International Council on Mining and Metals –ICMM (an international organisation dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry) – even if we were to recycle all the freely available metals and minerals in the world today, we would only meet a small percentage of the total mineral and metal requirements of society. This is in part due to the demands of a growing global population but also the reality that metals and minerals can remain in use for many years and are therefore simply unavailable for recycling. ICMM observes that there could be well over 4,000 different minerals. 

Mining can appear destructive but it can be done in an environmentally friendly way. There are factors you must take into account when you are thinking of mining an area. You should identify possible environmental effects, propose measurements to mitigate adverse effects and predict whether there will be significant adverse environmental impacts, even after the mitigation is implemented.

What should you consider when reviewing a typical Environmental Impact Assessment- (EIA) for a Mining Project?

 EIA is a tool used to assess the significant effects of a project or development proposal on the environment. EIAs make sure that project decision makers think about the likely effects on the environment at the earliest possible time and aim to avoid, reduce or offset those effects. explains that the purpose of an EIA is to provide clear and impartial information about a project’s potential environmental and social impacts. They advise that questions to consider when reviewing an EIA should be;

“Does the EIA fulfill requirements for the proposed activity, as set out in the relevant EIA guidelines or Terms of Reference? Does the EIA focus on the issues that most concern the community? Does the description of the existing environment reflect actual conditions? Is the information sufficient? Has the EIA defined the area of direct and indirect influence of the project? Is the impact analysis clear about the extent and significance of the impacts? Is the analysis rigorous enough?”

 It notes that other questions should be; “What sources support the conclusions? Can they be verified?  Is there enough information about alternatives to the project?  Is the EIA clear and easy to understand? Does it acknowledge limitations and difficulties? And finally, does the EIA describe how the project would implement proposed mitigation and management measures (including pollution control measures and closure)?”

What is the EIA of Kenya?

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) – Kenya, via defines EIA as a critical examination of the effects of a project on the environment. It states that any proponent of a project should conduct an EIA and prepare a report and submit to NEMA. The EIA must be done by a registered and licensed EIA/EA expert by NEMA – Responsible mining companies engage in land reclamation and rehabilitation efforts after a mining site has been exhausted. This can involve restoring the landscape, replanting native vegetation, and creating wildlife habitats, thus minimizing the long-term environmental impact.

When you talk of responsible mining in Kenya, you are reminded of the marvels that took place at Bamburi Cement Factory through Haller Park.  Here are excerpts on the subject from a feature presented in this Journal titled Saving the Planet with a Cement Factory by Author – C.M. “When the definitive story of corporate social responsibility in Kenya gets written, the name of Bamburi Cement Limited is likely to feature in the first chapter, and throughout the text, as a shining example of how an industry that has almost unlimited risk for contaminating the environment can take the lead in protecting the planet.  And the star of the story is likely to be the Swiss-born naturalist Dr Rene Haller. A skilled gardener with an unlimited appetite for a challenge, Dr Haller persuaded the company in 1970 to set him loose on the seven square kilometres of barren moonscape that had been created by more than 20 years of quarrying operations. 

In 1971 Rene Haller started work on the worked-out South Quarry. Since then, he has extended his efforts to other quarries in the Bamburi complex.  The outcome is still a work in progress, but a working lifetime of devotion to environmental rehabilitation has created one of Kenya’s prime tourist attractions, now known as Haller Park. More than a million trees were planted over the area, just the hardy casuarinas at first. But as the casuarinas were thinned, after their fallen needles had established a tilth over the bare rock, other species were added.  The trees have attracted myriad insects, birds and other plants which seed naturally and grow in their shade.

 The big attraction, which brings in school educational tours and other organised groups, is the huge variety of bird life, drawn in by three quite different microenvironments within the park – rain-fed wetlands, woodlands, and open savannah… Haller Park has become an essential feature on the itinerary of any visitor interested in Nature and the rehabilitation of the environment, with its casuarina forest, its trimmed lawns, giant tortoises, model fish farm, crocodile ponds, and browsing grounds for hippos, antelopes and giraffes, which can be fed by hand in the late morning and early evening. Dr Haller’s conservation achievements have been recognised by an award from the United Nations Environment Programme, and his efforts are now supplemented by donors and volunteers from around Kenya and the world… Pride of place among the Baobab Trust’s portfolio is taken by the Sea Turtle Conservation Programme, which was the first of its kind in Kenya when it was launched in 1989, but which has inspired the establishment of another 17 groups all along the coast. 

The most remarkable feature of Bamburi’s operations is not the financial contribution it makes to the national economy, but the surprising way in which a cement factory has become a major catalyst for saving the future of the planet and inspiring the surrounding communities to help improve their lives by conserving and improving their environment.”

There are many extractive industries in the African Continent. Mining is and has been going on in Africa for years, as the region is endowed with several valuable minerals. The invaluable significance of EIP has been noted and is being considered in several aspects, but a lot still needs to be done. Several African countries have made efforts to promote environmentally friendly mining practices. 

In Botswana the government has set up policies to reduce the environmental impact of diamond mining so that mined areas are rehabilitated properly. Ghana has effected regulation for accountable mining and proper environmental administration, particularly in gold mining areas. Namibia’s diamond mining industry stresses the importance of environmental protection and sustainable mining practices. While Mauritania, which includes iron ore production, has put measures in place to lessen environmental impacts. South Africa’s case is complex, but they are addressing environmental issues associated with mining. Madagascar’s government is regulating and controlling the environmental effects of mining, mainly because of its rich biodiversity. In Tanzania, the country’s gold mining sector is keen to ensure the right laws are followed, while Zambia’s is working hard to manage environmental challenges facing the copper mining industry.

This brings us back to our point, concerning the benefits of mining;

 Mining provides essential raw materials for various industries, including construction, electronics, and energy production. It supports the transition to clean energy by providing the necessary materials for these technologies. It also aids in technological innovation and supporting recycling especially because some minerals extracted through excavation, such as rare earth elements, are essential for recycling processes. It also supports economic growth and creates research opportunities.

It’s important to note that even though many countries are working towards environmentally friendly mining, there are still many challenges and concerns about this industry all over Africa. This is because Mining can have major environmental and social effects. All possible measures must therefore be put in place to ensure it is done sustainably. Whether it is advantageous or harmful largely depends, the resources being extracted, and if it is being done sustainably.

The author is the editorial consultant for the Accountant Journal.

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