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Fighting pollution in Zambia: The Shadow of Black Mountain

In the first of a series of three new blogs, SCIAF Policy Officer Ben Wilson explores the challenges faced by residents in Kabwe, Zambia and looks at the work SCIAF is doing to combat the growing impact of climate change.

The city of Kabwe lays two hours’ drive north of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. The country’s fourth largest city by population, Kabwe is the home of Zambian independence, hosts the headquarters of Zambian railways and, in 2017, it was given the undesirable name of “the world’s most toxic town” by the Guardian.

The name ‘Kabwe’ comes from the Bantu word for ‘ore’ or ‘smelting. At the beginning of the 20th century large lead and zinc deposits were found in Kabwe, leading to extensive and widespread mining. Today the town is known by the nickname ‘Black Mountain’ due to the huge slag heap which covers vast areas around the city; the result of crude, early 20th century mining techniques and a disregard for the local environment. The Black Mountain is full of valuable minerals, now accessible to mining companies who compete over portions of the slag heap to draw out lucrative profits.

The legacy of the hungry colonialists and an unregulated mining sector is lead polluted soil and water supply, resulting in widespread blood poisoning for young children in local communities. There are fears that the contaminated soil is making it into the dairy products, having untold impact on people living in the area, but a lack of scientific evidence is holding back a co-ordinated response from civil society.

Above and beyond the extensive lead pollution throughout local populations, farmers around Kabwe, where 40% of the population live in extreme poverty, must also combat the effects of climate change. Global warming affects the poorest most, and is already causing increased variability in weather patterns. A changing climate can mean rains come too early, too late, don’t come at all or fall torrentially, which can be devastating for families who rely upon rain-fed agriculture.

Although the poverty faced by those in Kabwe is extensive, there are solutions. SCIAF, with funding from the Scottish Government, is working with farmers in Kabwe to find innovative solutions to the challenge of climate change and the struggles of small-scale farming in Zambia. This includes training farmers in sustainable organic agriculture to increase yields, build tolerance of changing weather patterns, and supporting farmers to add value to their products and take them to market. Through this project, SCIAF is working with the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) to test soil and develop a better understanding of lead contamination in the area.

With your support, SCIAF is also funding Caritas Zambia to undertake research into mining in the area, and supporting them to continue to challenge mining companies to meet their legal social responsibilities. With each of these interventions, working collaboratively with Scottish and Zambian partners, and with financial support from the Scottish Government and your generous donations, SCIAF is working to challenge the root causes of poverty, fight for people’s rights, and build a more just world.

Keep a look out for more posts in the coming weeks, exploring our work at the international level to ensure businesses protect human rights.