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Rising environmental costs of Chinese Investments in Africa

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Chinese investments have increased over time in the African countries mainly to exploit their natural resources to cater to the raw material requirements of their industries. But it pays little attention to social and environmental impacts in the host countries. A recent case in point is Zimbabwe.

Recently, about twenty-seven non-governmental organisations (NGOs) raised their voices against the indiscriminate exploitation of country’s natural resources often leading to mass displacements, rampant labour rights violations, and adverse environmental impact. These NGOs from Zimbabwe urged the Chinese companies operating in the country for extracting gold, coal, chrome, diamonds and other minerals to stop the activities and address the issues.

Instead of addressing the issues, China resorted to a big brotherly approach and described the NGOs’ whistle blowing efforts as xenophobic. But the NGOs feel that China has little concern about the life and livelihood of the people as well as flora and fauna of the country and that their protests are meant to save life, ET has learnt.

The Zimbabwean NGOs have raised their voice against a mining project being implemented by China’s Zhongxin Coal Mining Group and Afrochine Smelting, ET has learnt from Zimbabwe based sources. The mining work is about to start in the Hwange national park region, which is home to cheetahs, elephants and rhinos. It is home to almost 10% of Africa’s remaining wild elephants.

Coal mining would also cause mass displacement of locals. Apart from posing threat to the animal population by disturbing their natural habitat, it will also endanger many rare species such as black rhino, pangolin and painted dogs.

The Chinese investments in the region would also affect the livelihood of the people who depend on safari tourism. It is a vital source of income for local people, but massive mining in the region would adversely affect the tourism industry which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to one of the above mentioned sources. Hwange, which is the size of Belgium, boasts the largest diversity of mammals among the world’s national parks.

The local community of Hwange petitioned (March 2021) Beifa Investments, a Chinese-owned mining company, exploring for coal in Dinde area to stop forthwith any mining activities as it violated the culture and heritage of the Nambya people.

Residents of Lukosi village also filed a petition in 2021, complaining of air and water pollution by mining companies along Nekabandama Road and upstream of the Deka River.

Chinese investment in the region is also affecting community life adversely. Communities living in the downstream area along Dohwe river expressed concern about their health and safety considering the use of mercury in the mining activities. The people in the area complain that Chinese mining has destabilized their way of life. They are dependent on the river for their livelihoods and water requirements for their own life and livestock, ET has learnt.

In the similar fashion, communities in the mineral-rich Great Dyke which forms part of the Midlands Province in Zimbabwe have expressed concern about increasing environmental and infrastructure degradation in the region. Chinese mining companies continue to defy the government ban on alluvial gold mining, despite efforts by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to stop operations in line with a national government directive.

Chinese investment models in Africa are no different from what they are pursuing in other developing countries. Taking advantage of capital deficiency in the developing countries, China bids for investment in their projects with a promise to develop their natural resources improve connectivity and establish industries, but the reality is contrary, according to Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General CUTS International, a leading public policy body whose branches in Africa have worked for improvement of livelihood of locals.

The NGOs from Zimbabwe point out that Chinese investment serves the interest of China at the cost of local people, who are facing a poverty ratio of 70.5% and unemployment rate of over 21%.

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