At odds with climate change
by Keletso Thobega
Last year, Botswana committed P640 million for economic diversification, which included investing in the greening movement. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Development planning, Solomon Sekwakwa, and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Botswana Ambassador, Paul Malin, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the use of the above mentioned amount to foster economic diversification in Selebi-Phikwe.
The funds, sourced from Sysmin Re-employment Account (REA), are held by government and will be disbursed as part of the national budget. Some of the priority projects which would be funded under REA are Selebi Phikwe Technical College, the Botswana Mining Museum and Research Centre (BOMMERC), an Acid Capture Plant, tourism infrastructure at Letsibogo Dam, a packaging house and processing plant for horticulture produce.
In a statement, the EU said it is interested in the possibility of using the funds to reduce the Bamangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) mine smelter’s emissions as it believes that addressing the pollution problem in Selebi Phikwe is a condition for the successful diversification of the economy in areas such as tourism, business and agriculture.
Indeed, addressing the pollution problem has become a cornerstone issue in the wider challenge of climate change, a challenge whose effects are far reaching.
As the furore surrounding climate change has gained traction, one mine which has been the centre of debate around pollution is the BCL mine. Residents of the Selebi Phikwe area, where nickel-copper is being mined often exhibit symptoms of varied degrees of ailments, sicknesses and diseases.
It was eminent that a study to investigate the general health status of residents be carried out. A few years ago, primary data was obtained by means of a questionnaire and structured interviews conducted with individuals, health service providers, business enterprises and educational Institutions. The generated data revealed common ailments, sicknesses and diseases in the area with the four most frequent health complaints being frequent coughing headaches, influenza/common colds and rampant chest pains.
Research findings indicated that residents had respiratory tract-related problems, suspected to be linked to the effects of air pollution caused by the emission of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from mining and smelting activities. Residents were frequently in contact with SO2 and related gases and fumes, mineral and silica dust generated from the mining processes.
Environmental factors resulting from mining and smelting activities, among others, could be contributory to the negative health effects occurring at Selebi Phikwe.
One former resident of the mining town, Cyril Osego Mosweu (32) said the effects are terrible, especially for respiratory health. He said sometimes trees are covered in black mist – fumes from the mines. Some trees are stunted growth. He explained that although he had not been affected by this, he still experienced breathing problems from time to time.
“I wish there was a way to go about this as many people fall ill from inhaling substances from the mine. The mine cannot close at it sustains the livelihood of many and contributes to the economy but its imperative to put measures in place to ensure that residents’ health is protected, and the environment isn’t so adversely affected,” he said.
A resident, who preffered anonymity, said he had suffered from asthma and chest pains since he was six years old. Born in Francistown, he moved to the mining town when he was two years old. ?”The emissions have affected me. I understand I was never a sickly child but after I moved to Phikwe, I became ill regularly. I try to avoid the mine area, but it can be difficult as ours is a small town. I have considered relocating as I vehemently believe that the environment aggravates my ailing health. I think perhaps it would have been better if mines were situated far away from human settlement. Even then, some workers also suffer. My brother worked at the mine but left last year on account of failing health.”
Experts agree that pollutants released into the atmosphere cause local air pollution. However, they also cause regional air pollution, as with huge plumes of smoke covering a large area. Beyond that, we are emitting such a high level of pollutants that they are causing serious global environmental problems: climate change and ozone depletion. The human race has become capable of affecting the atmosphere that encircles the Earth, and the very planet itself.
Pollution is a pressing issue when we consider the grueling effects of climate change. This begets the argument, should we then stop mining and emissions to avoid pollution, which has detrimental health, environmental effects, or should measures be put in place to minimize the effects? There is a slow, but solid growth of the greening movement and environmental consciousness in Botswana.
However, with the continued growth of the mining sectors, we still experience a rampant level of pollution.
In many cases, air pollutants contribute to climate change, and greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution:
Air pollutants such as ground-level ozone and soot (a portion of particulate matter) contribute directly to global warming, which is linked to climate change.
Methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases, is a major cause of increased ground-level ozone.
Climate change itself may have a direct impact on air quality.
Addressing the issues of air pollution and climate change may seem daunting. However, many of the actions that reduce air pollution can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.