In a public statement issued on 12 August 2012, conservation organisation, The Zambezi Society, expressed its "deep concern" about the threat of mining exploration for Heavy Mineral Sands Deposits (and possibly other minerals) in major tributaries of the Zambezi River in the Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore area which is one of four World Heritage Site properties in Zimbabwe.
The Zambezi Society called on its supporters and lovers of these wilderness areas to rally round in strong opposition with the clear message: NO COMPROMISE. NO MINING IN A WORLD HERITAGE SITE!
UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has been alerted. Media reports and petitions against the threat are appearing in the local and international media. The international tourism industry is issuing statements of alarm.
These could well impact upon next year's meeting of the UNWTO being hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia in Victoria Falls in August 2013.
A social media Facebook community page called SAVE MANA POOLS which successfully campaigned three years ago against an environmentally-unsuitable Protea Hotels development on the Zambian side of the Zambezi river opposite Mana Pools, has been re-launched to campaign against the mining threat. It is fast gaining momentum.
The Zambezi Society statement said:
"The Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore region not only encompasses one of Zimbabwe's largest National Parks and two Safari Areas, but is also internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with "Outstanding Universal Value", a Biosphere Reserve, an international Important Bird Area (IBA), and a vital component of a proposed Trans Frontier Conservation Area (TFCA).
We believe that there should be NO MINING (prospecting or exploration included) in this area because of potential impacts on its biodiversity, wildlife and sensitive eco-systems, which are globally important, and on its wilderness areas which are valuable to international tourism.
Furthermore, World Heritage status is not awarded lightly. There are less than 200 sites worldwide on UNESCO's "natural sites" listing; and in the Society's view, Zimbabwe's national interests will be best served by maintaining the integrity of the area, and prohibiting activities such as mining that will result in its degradation and possible loss of its World Heritage status.
A media statement in early July 2012 issued by a Zimbabwe-based mining company, Habbard Investments (affiliated to Geo Associates) announced its intention to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for prospecting for Heavy Mineral Sand Deposits (HMSD) in the Ruckomechi and Chewore Rivers in northern Zimbabwe. It called for comments to be sent to an EIA consultancy company IMPACO by a deadline of 17th July 2012.
The Ruckomechi River (above) lies within the Mana Pools National Park and the Chewore River (below) forms the boundary between the Sapi & Chewore Safari Areas. Both rivers are within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Biosphere Reserve and the Important Bird Area (IBA) boundaries.
Prior to submitting an objection by the required date, The Zambezi Society met with Mr Paul Chimbodza, CEO of Geo Associates, the proponent of the project, who explained that in September 2011 his company had been issued two licences to undertake exploration activities for HMSDs in these rivers, covering an area from the escarpment to the Zambezi River (45km for Ruckomechi and 65km for Chewore). The licences are due to expire in September 2012, but are renewable.
The HMSDs covered in the prospecting licence include copper, lead, zinc, manganese, tungsten, magnetite, tantalum, and titanium group minerals. If exploration was successful, the subsequent mining methods to extract these minerals from the riverbeds would include dredging and earth moving on a large scale, with sands being transported away in heavy machinery for processing at a nearby urban centre. The Zambezi Society questions why such heavy impact operations need to target ecologically-sensitive protected areas like the Zambezi Valley when there are alternative sources elsewhere, in less vulnerable areas.
The Zambezi Society's investigations in July 2012 showed that the company, IMPACO , was not listed by Zimbabwe's Environmental Management Agency as an "approved" consultancy to conduct EIAs.
The Zambezi Society has drawn the attention of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to this issue. This Committee has the power to list a World Heritage property as being "In Danger" if it is considered to be threatened by any of the following criteria: depletion of wildlife resources through poaching, deterioration of natural beauty through mining impacts, threats to its integrity through increased human encroachment, lack of an adequate or implemented management plan. In the opinion of The Zambezi Society, all of these apply.
The message is clear for Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore:
NO COMPROMISE. NO MINING IN A WORLD HERITAGE SITE!