/Rethinking ecological debt in the mining sector in Zimbabwe

Rethinking ecological debt in the mining sector in Zimbabwe

By Ernest K Mando, Masvingo

It is my hope that by the time you finish reading this article, you will be able to understand what ecological debt is. Also, I want you to walk with me as I explain why ecological debt should be taken into account when debating on national economic development. We often mention domestic and foreign debt as reasons for the Zimbabwe’s slow economic development. But have we stopped to think about how ecological debt has contributed to the state the country finds itself in? Well, lets start by defining terms.

What is ecological debt?

Defining ecological debt has been a problem over the years. It is the reason why we still don’t have a universal definition of the term. Ecological debt, however, can be understood through the lens of different contextual meanings. Generally, scholars interpret ecological debt in terms of social and ecological impacts caused by exploitation of resources. The exploitation of these resources can be done in productive sectors such as mining. We will work with that definition as we seek to understand the role of ecological debt in national economic development

Ecological debt in mining

The mining industry in Zimbabwe plays a big role in contributing to the country’s economic development. Trading Economies (2018) says mining and trading of precious minerals such as platinum, gold, lithium and diamond have significantly improved the Zimbabwe’s GDP per capita.

I hate to mention this, but the ecological system in Zimbabwe has been damaged because of careless exploitation of resources. Sadly, the host countries only realize minimal benefits from the resources mined from their own soil. The rest of the profits are taken out of Zimbabwe or Africa by multi-national companies. At the end of the day, multi-national companies are the winners. You will agree with me that the idea of ecological debt began way back, during the colonial days. Ecological debt clearly shows the social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts that result from mining.

 Local communities have suffered from degraded environments, pollution, cultural dilution and loss of economic power due to ecological debt. Lately, communities, Nongovernmental Organisations (NGO’s) and the government have spent huge sums  of money as they try to renew the lost beauty, heritage and productivity value of our land.

We are to blame also

We cannot, however, continue to blame others without reflecting on our own activities in the mining sector. Since 1980, when Zimbabwe attained independence, certain social and ecological issues remain unresolved. This is despite the fact that the mining sector has an existing governance system.

These issues include, but not limited to environmental degradation, prevalence of diseases in mining communities and loss of lives. Mine workers live in poverty and communities are displaced to pave way for mining operations. I can go on and on with the list of these issues.

 Broadly speaking, these issues explain the idea of ecological debt. There is a strong connection between ecological debt and financial debt. Financial debt manifests through stressed government budgets towards addressing the said social and environmental issues facing communities and the nation.

How can we solve the problem?

 Against this background, it is highly recommended that quantitative studies are conducted at national level to cost benefit analyze the mining sector in Zimbabwe. This can be done in terms of GDP, financial and ecological debt and understand the contribution of ecological debt towards national financial debt crisis. Policy makers,therefore, need to mainstream ecological debt in monetary and fiscal policies based on informed and substantiated studies.

Belgium Case Study

Belgium’s wealth is based on a high level of energy consumption with its gross annual energy consumption exponentially increased from 1.7 million TOE (tons1 of oil equivalent) in 1830 to 58.3 million TOE in 2000. A per capita approach shows a factor 12 increase in the same period, from 0.5 TOE in 1830 to 5.7 TOE in 2000, the latter being almost four times the world average consumption per capita in 2000. Belgium’s high level of fossil energy consumption contributes to the depletion of this finite resource at the expense of the equitable rights to these resources not only of other countries but also of future generations, by depriving them of the possibility to benefit from the use of these resources.

Ernest Mando is an Environmentalist, Educator& Content Developer with research interests in extractive sectors, biodiversity, environmental governance and health& safety. He is currently studying a PhD in Environmental Management with UNISA. Contacts: +263-772244193, 735404802 or email- ernestkmando@gmail.com

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