Key zones saved from mining

With about 75% of mining revenue generated in protected areas, a policy has been developed that identifies nine areas in the country where prospecting and mining will not be allowed.

These protected areas have specifically been excluded from these activities in the recently launched national policy on prospecting and mining in protected areas.

The policy was developed jointly by the environment and mines ministries and identifies several other national parks with specific zones that will excluded from prospecting and mining.

The protected areas include the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, the Daan Viljoen Game Park, the Etosha National Park, Gross Barmen, the Hardap Game Park, the Nkasa Rupara National Park, Popa Falls, the Von Bach Game Park and the Waterberg Plateau Park.

According to the policy document it has become evident that strong policy frameworks and tools should be developed to improve decision-making and provide protection for biodiversity, ecosystem services and cultural heritage.

The vision of the policy is to develop integrated and sustainable prospecting and mining practices in Namibia that support economic growth, while maintaining the integrity of ecosystems and natural resources; and avoiding the degradation of areas that are highly sensitive in terms of their ecological, social and/or cultural heritage value.

Diamonds and Uranium

The policy says that with the large size of protected areas in Namibia, a major part of the country’s mineral endowment occurs in them.

“By far the two most important commodities in Namibia – diamonds and uranium – come almost exclusively from protected areas, with diamond operations occurring in the Tsau //Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park and the Namibian Islands Marine Protected Area, and two out of Namibia’s three uranium mines in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.”

While their core business is the extraction of minerals, mining operations also make significant contributions to conservation in Namibia, the policy says.

The document states more than 70% of tourism activities in Namibia are attributable to protected areas, while tourism is also a highly labour-intensive industry and contributes to the creation of sustainable employment.

“It is expected that many new tourism concessions will be developed inside protected areas, significantly increasing concession fees paid to the state and rural communities, and creating employment opportunities. This will lead to increased tourism and support regional and national development goals.”

The policy also recognises that Namibia’s mineral endowment, and the resulting exploration and mining, are of high importance to the national economy.

“Mining has been the mainstay of the Namibian economy for more than 100 years, and is set to retain its importance for the foreseeable future. The contribution to GDP is expected to grow to at least 17%, and mining remains the most important taxpayer, as well as foreign exchange earner.”

Adverse impacts

It is also a significant employer and skills developer, and therefore has a significant share in the social and economic development of Namibia, according to the policy.

Adverse environmental impacts from mining can range from permanent landscape alteration, to soil contamination and erosion, water contamination, the loss of critical habitats for sensitive plant and animal species, and ultimately the loss and extinction of species. The policy provides direction in terms of where mining and exploration impacts are legally prohibited and where biodiversity priority areas may present high risks for mining projects.

Protected areas or areas within protected areas that have the following characteristics will therefore be excluded from prospecting and mining: Biodiversity priority areas, high-value tourism areas, known breeding areas of certain species (including marine species) and important wetland areas.

Areas with existing economic activities, which would be compromised by prospecting and/or mining, will also be excluded, as well as areas with the potential to be developed into economically viable tourist or other compatible operations and sites of high and/or unique cultural, historic and/or archaeological value.

According to the policy a rehabilitation fund will be set up within the Environment Investment Fund (EIF) to mobilise resources for the rehabilitation and restoration of abandoned mines and impacted sites.

The fund will also require that exploration and mining licence holders fund bonds as security to ensure that they fulfil their environmental obligations.

This means that if an operator is unable to meet their environmental obligations, the state must not be the one responsible for paying the rehabilitation costs.

ELLANIE SMIT