UNDP visit Tsumeb Smelter

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Technical Advisor on Extractive Sector Initiatives, Dr. Audrey Cash, recently embarked on a familiarization trip to Dundee Precious Metals in Tsumeb, to engage the stakeholders in the Tsumeb Extractives Sector. These efforts are geared towards the preparation of the upcoming Extractives Conference which will examine environmental management, of this sector in Namibia.

In 2011, Tsumeb experienced sulphur dioxide emissions from the Dundee Precious Metals smelter operation, which presented problems of public and occupational health, as well as concern around waste seeping into the ground water. These concerns led to a decision by Cabinet to conduct an investigation to resolve the problem.

Government, in collaboration with UNDP Namibia, undertook a review of the operations of the Tsumeb smelter in 2011, and this process resulted in the establishment of a sulphuric acid plant which captures sulphuric acid waste, before it is released into the atmosphere.

Namibia with the assistance of UNDP has conducted reviews and developed reports that contributed to the policies put in place to combat the environmental impacts of the Smelter in Tsumeb, and to assist the rest of the extractive sector in the country to avoid facing the same challenges.

UNDP further assisted with the commissioning of five studies in the Tsumeb area, that are still ongoing, covering public health, environmental impact, community participation, legal compliance and labour; which have been the guiding force for the Tsumeb extractive sector.

The UNDP team alongside Mr Abraham Kanime-Focal Point, NamExtract Project and Senior Conservation Scientist-Waste Management and Pollution Control at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, had an opportunity to visit the Dundee Smelter first. The presentation at the Smelter highlighted UNDPs instrumental role in the 2012-2013 Government Health Survey and reporting which resulted in the construction of the acid plant to capture sulphur dioxide. The acid plant has reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by almost 98% and has resulted in the manufacturing of sulphuric acid. This has created an economic spin off on the local markets as the acid is then used to extract uranium, meaning that these products no longer need to be imported by other operations.

 As a result of the Government Health Survey,

·         The smelter now comprises of five air quality stations and eighteen borehole quality assessment points.

·         The employees receive examinations that monitor exposure to arsenic once or twice a year, to allow for better response measures, should one be exposed to dangerous quantities.

·         There is a possibility to further limit community exposure with the new Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process that they are looking to expand, as well as conduct a community health study.

UNDP met with the Health Superintendent for the smelter as well as the medical doctor working with the smelter workers. They both explained that arsenic is not simple to diagnose and that there are many protocols that have been implemented to decrease exposure that the workers experience. Since the acid plant came into effect there are reduced numbers of people coming in with problems of sore throats and rashes related to arsenic exposure. The town is experiencing better health and quality of life with a noticeable reduction in human complaints.

During consultations with members of the workers union it was made clear that, since 2010 there has been great improvement in the working conditions of mine workers, however they also noted that some challenges still need to be addressed, and identified opportunities for operations need to be run more efficiently and safely going forward.

The CEO of the Municipality Mr. Alfeus Benjamin and the Former Mayor of the town Mr. Linekela Shetekela, noted that the stakeholders (Government, UNDP and Dundee) have always welcomed the processes of change in the community and this has enabled the projects and surveys to be conducted with greater ease and cooperation which is uncommon. Public participation has been of great importance in this project, as the main objective is not only to protect the environment in Tsumeb but also protect the community members.

Public Relations Officer for the Municipality Ms. Stella Nangolo, highlighted the issues specific to the girl-child, young women and the youth, as a result of the mine workers presence in the town. Due to the nomadic nature of their work, the workers often impregnate local women, and leave them destitute once their work in the town is complete. She emphasised the need to develop youth programmes that will reduce these occurrences in the community.

Tsumeb can be used as an example for other parts of Namibia, of how to mitigate some of the social and health challenges which may arise in the Extractive Sector.