FQM suspends $700k water project following community snub

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First Quantum Minerals (FQM) says it has suspended plans for part of a US$700,000 community water project following attempts by community leaders to blame the mine for naturally occurring water quality issues.

The mining giant says the dispute between its Trident Foundation and some local people highlights the wider issue of the extent to which the private sector should be obligated to conduct community development projects that are the responsibility of national and local government.

According the a press release issued by FQM’s public relations agent, naturally occurring iron in the geological structure of the area has been a visible challenge in water in community boreholes for over 2-decades, long before mining activities commenced in the area. This is a well-known challenge in areas with similar soils in Zambia, in particular, large parts of North-Western and Northern Provinces. Scientific analysis of the water confirmed the natural occurring iron, which causes water discolouration and a metallic taste. The iron occurs in most of the local soils and is not as a result of mining activities.This is backed up by the extensive long-term groundwater monitored programmes initiated by the company before operations began.

In addition, abnormally high rainfall in the 2017/2018 rainy season, and clearing of vegetation for farming activities caused flooding of a graveyard, which some village residents blamed on the mine, despite a survey demonstrating that the area was uphill of the mine’s activities.

“First Quantum strives to do the right thing and support the communities that are our neighbours. This goes far beyond our legal obligations, but we are happy to provide this social investment on a goodwill basis,” says FQM Country Manager, General Kingsley Chinkuli.

“However, on this occasion, the prolonged attack on our work has gone too far. It is misguided, unfair, and damages our reputation as a good corporate citizen. On this basis, we have suspended investment in a water project until such time as we have the full support of all in the community. We will, however, continue with a component of the project, but only in directly affected communities of the project. We are currently reviewing our community development approach to avoid such unfair accusations in future for projects that are well-intended. Our intention is to continue to do the right thing, but we must do so without putting the company reputation at risk.”

Through its Trident Foundation, the company budgeted to invest US$700,000 in an initiative to upgrade community water systems in Kalumbila District in work being co-ordinated in consultation with Senior Chief Musele, a development taskforce and a sub-committee specifically set up to recommend improvements to water access.

“First Quantum Minerals has a clear policy of supporting the communities surrounding its mines. It allocates millions of dollars every year to help ensure people have the basic needs and tools with which they can build sustainable livelihoods for themselves,” said General Chinkuli.

“We believe that support should be made in consultation with the communities themselves as part of their wider long-term strategy to empower themselves and benefit from the opportunities presented by the proximity to the mine,” Mr Chinkuli said, cautioning against local people becoming dependent on charitable donations or seeing the mine as responsible for their welfare beyond legitimate recompense when people have been resettled or directly impacted by mine operations.

The initial plans to upgrade water facilities were the foundation’s humanitarian response to recent concerns by the community about naturally occurring water quality issues and flooding.

Earlier in the year, the company came to the aid of people in Musele and Kawelanga village after a flooded graveyard threatened the community’s water supply.

Above-average rainfall, which was a third higher than normal in the 2017/2018 rainfall season, caused a rise in the water table in the general area, leading to ponding in a low-lying graveyard area near the village.

Following liaison with local authorities, and a thorough inspection of the waterlogged site, the mining company contracted North-West Water to provide a bowser bringing fresh water to the stricken community members, who were worried that their usual water supply may be contaminated by flooding from an adjacent cemetery.

Water experts [from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA), Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) and the Department of Water Resources Development] inspected the site, which is more than 7km away from the company’s Sentinel Mine in Kalumbila. The graveyard height is ~25m above the full-supply level of the closest dam, and that flooding had been caused by increased groundwater-level and surface water run-off due to high rainfall and disturbance of surrounding vegetation. Following the investigation, there have been no issues of concern presented to the mine by the authorities.

The mine has nevertheless undertaken an on-going programme of borehole upgrades to help the community address the challenge of access to clean and safe drinking water, including a technical investigation to locate deep water borehole sites in Kalumbila District. In 2017, the mining firm spent ~US$60,000 to repair 57 community boreholes across the Musele Chiefdom. Repairing the boreholes was identified as a need during an annual community needs assessment, followed up by a mechanical survey of all the boreholes in Musele Chiefdom. The mine also works in close collaboration with Department of Water Resources Development to undertake annual water quality monitoring of 178 boreholes in the local area, and the results are disclosed to the community. This is part of FQMs on-going development work, strictly not to be misconstrued with any mine-related impact. The programme aimed to complement government efforts to increase access to clean and safe drinking water in communities in Kalumbila district.

The mining firm says it believes access to safe, clean water is the number one priority for community development. Water is a basic human need, and should always be prioritised over other forms of development work.

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31