Govt accused of not taking action to clean up lead contamination in Kabwe


The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused government of delaying urgently needed action to clean up severe lead-contaminated Kabwe.

Organisation Child Rights Associate Director, Juliane Kippenberg, asked that government should draft a technical proposal and seek support from donor agencies and companies responsible for the pollution.

In a statement, Kippenberg said this was to undertake a comprehensive clean-up of the former Kabwe mine, one of the most heavily lead-polluted sites in the world.

“It is inconceivable that 30 years after the mine’s closure, children in Kabwe still suffer lead poisoning and serious lifelong health impacts. The toxic mine needs to be cleaned up immediately to protect children’s health and lives,” she stated.

Kippenberg noted that Kabwe was one of the world’s worst pollution hotspots because of contamination from a former lead and zinc mine established during the British colonial period.

She said the mine was closed in 1994, but that its toxic waste remained and lead dust from its large, uncovered waste dumps blows across nearby residential areas, exposing up to 200,000 people to high levels of toxic lead.

“The situation is compounded by small-scale and informal mining activities at the former mine site,” Kippenberg stated.

She added that in March 2022, President Hakainde Hichilema instructed the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment to establish a technical committee to “address and lead the process of comprehensive remediation” in Kabwe.

Read More: Mine poisoning: Zambian government urged to join suit against Anglo American

Kippenberg noted that after an initial informal meeting in June 2022, the technical committee however was never formally set up.

“In 2023, the Ministry announced its intention to make Kabwe a “Green City” where economic development takes place “on top of buried lead surfaces. But it remains unclear how the ministry is planning to turn this vision into reality,” she said.

In 2020, lawyers from South Africa and the United Kingdom filed a class action lawsuit in a South African court on behalf of affected children and women of child-bearing age in Kabwe.

The lawsuit seeks compensation, a lead-screening system for children and pregnant women, and remediation of the area.

The lawsuit contends that the mine was operated and managed by the company Anglo American between 1925 and 1974, while Anglo American argues it did not own or operate the mine, but only provided “technical services.”

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