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Environmental non-compliance in mines exposed

The auditor general’s latest report has exposed perennial non-compliance within the mining industry.

Government has learnt that environmental, pollution and other long-term damage to the environment by mines have not been monitored.

Tabled before the National Assembly recently, the audit report for 2011/12 to 2014/15 indicates that mining sites across the country were not adequately inspected for several years.

The audit indicates that mines, energy, environment and tourism authorities did not effectively monitor pollution and environmental rehabilitation at mines.

According to the audit, the department of environmental affairs did not conduct any inspections at mining sites and provided incomplete information and evidence.

The audit also found that the directorate of mines did not adequately monitor the mining sites.

During the period of the audit, the Matchless and Otjihase Copper Mine, Otjozondu Manganese Mine, Stone Africa Granite Mine and Ysterpitz Blue Lace Mine in the Khomas, Otjozondjupa, Erongo and Karas regions had neither reported oil spills nor done anything to clean up such spills.

“As a result oil spills may cause long-term damage to the environment,” the audit report reads.

The audit found that 62% of permits for wastewater effluent disposal exemption issued to mineral rights holders operating in the Karas and Erongo regions had expired.

Namdeb had three expired permits during that time.

“This could increase the rate of non-compliance, which could lead to contamination of water resources because water quality is not tested,” the report states.

The Matchless and Otjihase Copper Mines in the Khomas Region were found operating without wastewater effluent exemption permits and were disposing of effluent into the environment.

As a result the rivers in the vicinity of the mines became polluted.

In addition, findings of inspections conducted by the Directorate of Geological Survey within the mines ministry were not adequately communicated to the relevant role players.

These included inspections that were conducted at Otjihase Copper Mine where it was discovered that contaminated seepage from mine tailings had been released into the Kuruma River system.

Also it was found that surface water in the Omits River was polluted with sewage from the abandoned Oamites mine.

The environment ministry also failed to issue written notices for non-compliance by mineral right holders for general waste mixed with hazardous waste, oil containers that were not safely stored, fuel spills at fuel bays and oil drums leaking into the environment.

At the time of the audit, it was also found that all sand miners who had received permits from the agriculture ministry were operating without environmental clearance certificates because the provisions of the Environmental Management Act were not enforced.

“As a result riverbeds were polluted and mining pits were not rehabilitated when operations ceased, which encouraged dumping of waste into the riverbeds.”

The report points out that the mining industry continues to grow, which is good for the economy.

“However, it is important for the government to harmonise the demand for rapid economic growth with the need to conserve natural resources and protect the environment on which citizens depend,” adds the report.

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