Namibia must not allow marine phosphate mining

By Prof. Mburumba Kerina, Windhoek

NAMIBIA is facing a request from Namibia marine phosphate (NMP), an 85 percent foreign –owned company (Omani investor) which wants to mine phosphates on seabed, close to the major costal fishing town of Walvis Bay, where it proposes to dump tonnes of waste on land. Another application, lev leviev Namibia Phosphates, are hoping to also apply to set up a marine phosphate mining operation and a phosphoric acid at Luderitz.

NMP received an environmental clearance certificate from Namibia’s Environmental Commissioner in 2017despite many concerns raised by various activists and environmentalist over the years. I want to add my voice on this issue because marine phosphate mining has the potential to destroy the marine ecosystem which we need to protect the generations to come. It is very worrying that senior politicians seem to be supporting NMP and its local minority shareholder, Knowledge Katti.

It is also disconcerting that some of Namibia’s most renowned environmental activists who proclaim to have been involved in the protection of the environment  for many years have not only rendered support for the proposed marine phosphate mining venture but have in fact approved the project through the environment impact assessment (EIA) Study they conducted. This study was paid for by the company and produced exactly the kind of recommendations the company wanted to hear.

It is therefore important for Namibians to raise their voices and say no to marine phosphate mining once and for all. The reason why we must do so include the following:

Marine phosphate mining will have far-reaching and irreversible consequences which include the following:

Health aspects

• Dredging of major quantities of marine phosphates will result in amounts of potentially harmful, radioactive solid and liquid waste, with no proper way proposed to dispose of it and prevent blowing over nearby Walvis Bay and Luderitz.

• Leaks of radioactive material into seawater would impact on quality of fishery and marine products, affecting food-safety levels for human consumption. In Togo, waste produced from the phosphate mining has flowed into the sea, causing serious problems for contaminated seafood to coastal communities.

• Possibly unsafe radiation levels associated with the uranium content of marine phosphates, both at mining sites and processing effluents.

Environmental and fisheries aspects:

• Potential for marine ecosystem collapse from dredging is very real, based on scientific understanding of the sensitivity of deep sea marine ecosystems.

• 505 million tonnes of sediment per year would be removed from the seabed, causing significant alteration of the ecosystem in the immediate mining area

• Duration and intensity of suspended sediment generated by dredging would result in a permanent plume in the dredging area. This poses a great risk of fisheries due to clogging of fish grills, poisoning, oxygen depletion and smothering of young fish in their breeding and nursery grounds. Overall marine phosphate mining will have a major impact on fish distribution, diversity and ecosystem interactions.

• The fish biodiversity is likely to be severely impacted with potential loss of prey and foraging habitat in hake breeding areas in immediate mining.

• Permanent destruction of specific breeding areas of major commercial fish species.

Labour aspects

• Fewer than 160 direct jobs for the people would be created. In contrast, the Namibian fishing industry directly employs some 16,800 people – many of them women, and nearly all are Namibians. The indirect jobs of the fishing industry currently stand are around 60,000

Legal Aspects

• Marine phosphate mining goes against the UN goals for Sustainable Development, International Maritime Law and Namibia’s renowned Constitution and laws, it also goes against Namibia’s vision 2030 which guides our future development as a nation. Article 95 of the Namibian constitution requires government to actively promote welfare of the people, stating that Government of Namibia is obligated to:” ..maintain ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilisation of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and in future.”

    We must live up to his obligation and say no to marine phosphate mining once and for all.