The curse of fossil fuels in poor communities

By Watmore Makokoba

The story of a teenage boy from Hwange coal mining community who has been incapacitated and psychologically affected after suffering burns from underground fires makes a serious case for the threat posed by fossils to people’s lives and health. It also makes a compelling case for the demand in the speedy introduction of other energy options in Zimbabwe.

His life is difficult as he hardly moves and suffers from low self-esteem owing to his deformed limbs. It is hard for him to be outdoors at times because his skin cannot endure the severe weather conditions.

On one fateful day, whilst herding cattle away from his mother’s field, the ground suddenly gave in and the next minute half his body had sunk into the burning coal underground resulting in severe burns.

The fires are caused by combustion on underground coal deposits and this is only one of many untold ailments such as chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and elevated occurrence of premature death synonymous with coal mining communities.

The Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) has carried out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and posits that residents of this community might perhaps have nothing to brag about despite sitting on one of the world’s top coal deposits in the world.

“This young boy had his childhood ruined. The failure of the Hwange Colliery Mine to extinguish raging underground seam fires and alternatively to put danger warning signs on dangerous areas around the colliery resulted in this tragedy,

“Moreover the mine did nothing to compensate the boy and his family. It has been seven years since the incident happened. Dense plumes of smoke that rise up from the grey dumps created by the digging contain poisonous gases from volcanoes without craters.

Apart from this, there are other threats bewildering the Hwange community. Farai Muguwu, Director of CNRG said, “trees and plants are dying because of the underground heat emanating from coal burial, whilst mining-induced subsidence, without adequate prevention or repair measures, often results in the abrupt sinking of the ground surface, destroying the ecosystem, roads and killing both humans and animals

“Women and children walk along grey roads covered by a dense coat of coal dust, whose heaviness hardens the lungs, exacerbating the risks of cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases”

According the Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority (ZERA), of the total national electrification capacity, 43% is generated from thermal and the country is one of the leading coal producer with reserves amounting to about 12 billion metric tons situated mainly in the northern/north-western part of the country

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate developed the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS) which seeks among other things to “promote renewable energy and investment in clean technology for thermal power production”.

The development and promotion of green energy sources in Zimbabwe such as biogas and solar has brought a value chain that is substantially enhancing the quality of life and building health and resilience in some communities and will ultimately reduce sad incidences such as those occuring in the coal mining communities.

Renewable energy is one of the key critical component towards the fulfillment of the United national Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specifically SDG 3 (Good health and wellbeing).



Post Author: MISA Zimbabwe

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