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Calls to permanently cancel environmental certificate for phosphate mining

2018-09-20  Staff Reporter

Calls to permanently cancel environmental certificate for phosphate mining

WINDHOEK - The Economic and Social Justice Trust has written to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism asking it to permanently cancel the environmental clearance certificate of Namibia Marine Phosphate (Pty) Ltd to prevent the company from commencing phosphate mining operations off the Namibian coast. 

This request follows a decision by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta to set the environmental clearance certificate aside to allow for further consultations. 

In a letter by the Chairman of the Trust, Herbert Jauch, to the Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila, the organisation highlighted numerous factors which should warrant cancellation of the clearance certificate. These factors include the need to be cautious, apparent dangers to the fishing industry, lack of proper procedures, labour concerns, the need for additional research, high radioactivity of marine phosphate and the state’s duty to protect the environment. 

“It is no coincidence that marine phosphate mining has not been conducted anywhere in the world, despite large deposits of marine phosphates being available in many areas. The reason is simply that risks are far too great and Namibia must not allow itself to be abused for an experiment that can have long-lasting devastating consequences. Namibia would do itself a great disfavour to accept this world-first:  it would be a dubious distinction and not to our credit,” reads the letter.  
Jauch added that he is concerned that hasty and incremental marine mining will degrade Namibia’s delicate marine ecosystem, which will cause damage to oceanic waters and which will become apparent only when it is too late to recover thereby robbing future generations of a vital and valuable seafood resource.  

“Consequently, adequate national protection of the marine environment requires urgent, sound ecosystem baseline research. Strict environmental monitoring procedures must be officially formulated and maintained, to specifically monitor mining activities and their impact on the marine ecosystem.  We are concerned that Namibia does not have the capacity to do this, as is evident with Angolan fishing vessels being filmed traversing our waters, with Namibia’s patrol vessels apparently unable to do anything about it,” reads Jauch’s letter. 

He pointed out that it is against this background that the United Nations supports the precautionary principle when dealing with ventures such as marine phosphate mining. 

“The Benguela ecosystem is a fragile though highly productive, large marine ecosystem. It is based on the nutrients in the seabed which provide the basis for phytoplankton which in turn forms the base of the food web of the entire marine ecosystem.  Marine phosphate mining would involve a large-scale destruction of the top layer of the seabed, and such disturbances of the seabed will present a severe threat to the ecosystem as a whole and all living mechanisms that it supports,” Jauch stated. 

He added that fisheries scientists are concerned about the foundational building blocks of the ecosystem, because micro-organisms play a major part in keeping the ecosystem in balance, and keeping dangerous substances safely buried in the sediments. 

“Different marine microbes control most processes in the deep sediments and water column, and the balance will be changed if mining excavates different proportions of heavy metals, nutrients, and oxygen demanding compounds. The liquid environments of these micro-organisms will change – which is something our renowned Namibian Constitution absolutely forbids us to ever allow,” the letter states. 

“Fish is a renewable resource, provided the breeding grounds are healthy and the fishing industry is sustainably managed. The key argument is that as long as there is a reasonable level of uncertainty regarding possible damage to the ecosystem and thus also the fishing industry, marine mining cannot be allowed in Namibia,” said Jauch. 

“Taking our Constitution seriously will require of government to permanently withhold an environmental clearance certificate for marine phosphate mining and to terminate such initiatives just like Namibia has declined to become a dumping ground for global nuclear waste. It is time once more to show that the State takes its constitutional commitments seriously,” Jauch concluded. 

2018-09-20  Staff Reporter

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