Catholic Commission and Paladin uranium

Mzuzu Diocese (Malawi) John Chawinga
CCJP Secretary Mzuzu Diocese

The People of Karonga Deserve Clean and Safe Water

1.0 Background Information
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Mzuzu Diocese organized a routine monthly meeting for animators from St. Mary’s Parish in Karonga on July 22, 2009. The animators reported that Paladin Africa had made a huge leap towards fulfilling the economic corporate social responsibility obligations i.e. building school blocks and digging trenches for the water works. However, the construction of water works infrastructure remains an ethical and environmental nightmare, considering that the design and implementation of such undertaking has not been subjected to scientific rigor and authentication. Worse still, the Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) which is mandated to provide water in the region has been demobilized to the status of spectator. The main stay of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace on the Kayelekera project has been that the people of Karonga continue to access clean and safe water that is also free from uranium contamination, we would like to bring to
light a critical analysis based on the shortfalls that were highlighted by Dr. Gavin Mudd, the peoples concerns and the new development as regards the provision of water around Kayelekera and Karonga Boma.

2.0 Observations and Discussions as Regards Provision of Clean and Safe Water.
2.1 Dr. Gavin Mudd observed that the EIA report lacked strong commitment to completely prevent discharge of contaminated mine site water during extreme weather conditions. In Australia, the home of Paladin, uranium miners operate a water management system which achieves a ‘no release’. That is no water are allowed to directly discharge to the environment. The people of Kayelekera have started experiencing such negligence. The people around Kayelekera have seen Paladin Africa drawing water for drinking and domestic use by their employees from Lufilya and Miswanga Rivers, while the people around the mine site continue to drink the contaminated water from Sere River.

2.2 Dr. Gavin Mudd further observed that the surface water quality data for Sere River was poor with respect to critical environmental aspects such as metal and radionuclide concentration. The EIA Consultants for Paladin pegged the analytical detection limit very high i.e. <1.8mg/L while in Australia the limit is pegged at 0.000005mg/L. By using the Australian standard as a base, Paladin has the leverage to increase the concentration of uranium in North Rukuru and Lake Malawi by as much as 36M % without being held accountable. This confirms why Paladin is unrelenting on tapping water at Club Marina from Lake Malawi.

The non-compliance to the minimum standards of uranium detection as provided for in the Australian Laws confirms the statement that were made by John Borshoff as quoted from the Melbourne Herald Sun of April 3, 2006: ‘There has been an overcompensation in terms of thinking about environmental and social issues in regards to uranium operations in Australia, forcing companies like Paladin into Africa’. The sentiments by the Managing Director of Paladin are further substantiated by the World Nuclear Association as quoted by David Thorpe which admits that in “emerging uranium producing countries” there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring. Malawi does not have legal framework to regulate uranium mining.

2.3 The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace instituted an investigation to establish the working relationship between Paladin and Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) on the supply of water to Karonga Township. The reality on the ground is that Paladin has usurped the power of the water board and is involved in providing water itself. The provision in the Water Works Act, 1995, section 6 states that ‘The Board shall, except for rural water supply areas, have the control and administration of all water works and all the water in such water works and the management of the supply and distribution of such water in accordance with this Act. All the documentation beginning with ‘Development Agreement’, the ‘Deed of Settlement and Release’ and the Paladin sponsored media converged on the understanding that NRWB would do the water works because it falls within their mandate. NRWB went ahead to identify two contractors to carry out the assignment, but Paladin vetoed them out.
This means that Paladin is above the laws of Malawi.

We the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace captured the views of different people from Karonga. “At first people in Karonga were told that NRWB would manage the water plant including time of construction but we are surprised that there is no official of the water board on site and its only Paladin Officials” said one top Civil Servant. The official further said that “Our worry here is that before mining, at the time of exploration, scientists (geologists) were able to detect uranium along the Rukuru River (which flows into Lake Malawi)- Now with the mining on full throttle the possibility is that the uranium would easily flow into Lake Malawi. The other worry is that Paladin is not coming out clearly if there purification facility will be able to take away uranium from the water”. The developments on the ground are a contradiction to what Mr. Mwiza Mtawali of NRWB said on April 8, 2009 as quoted below: Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) representative (Engineer ) Mr.
Mtawali commented on the progress of the water project that the project is in the process and that a water filtration plant has been ordered and will be assembled in South Africa particularly Cape Town and to be ferried by a track to Malawi. He further said that the system is very efficient and it will be one of the best water treatment systems in southern Africa as it uses filtration membranes. He agreed that the funds amounting to US$ 8.2 million was indeed in government’s accounts. Mr. Mtawali further said that the water system intake will be located 400m into Lake Malawi.

When he was asked by Mr. Chawinga on whether there was a water filtration system that can extract uranium from water to become safe for drinking, Mr. Mtawali said: … Mr. Mtawali responded that he is open to say that the water filtration system to be put in place has no capability to remove uranium and its associated derivates from the water hence any occurrence of uranium related pollution might still remain a health and environmental hazard to the people of Karonga.

“Initially water for Karonga township was taped from Lake Malawi; but years ago the flooding of Rukuru River dag into the graves and the people saw coffins floating on Lake Malawi” the animators narrated, hence the decision to shift water intake by the water board. What magic has paladin brought that will hold Rukuru River from flooding and being polluted, the people queried.

2.4 We the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace applaud the initiative of the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development for the analysis that they conducted to determine the potential impact that Kayelekera project may bring to the water resources. The report that is dated 19th June, 2009 makes a qualitative observation of the concentration of physiochemical and heavy metal parameters and gives quantitative concentration of bacteria in the same samples. The government needs to support such initiatives so that they are able to come up with quantitative concentrations of the mentioned physiochemical and heavy metals in future. However, we would like to remind the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development that scientific analysis are best represented by numbers; and that it is on the basis of numbers that assurances and recommendations can be made.

3.0 The Appeal of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace
We the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace appeal as follows:
3.1 That Paladin should comply with the international best practices of mining uranium in absence of legal frame work to regulate the same in Malawi. Australia, the home of Paladin is widely acclaimed for having stringent and complex regulatory regime for the mining of uranium. The Australian regulatory regime ensures a highly effective, efficient and world-class regulatory regime that provides the community with assurance that all potential risks associated with uranium mining are being effectively controlled and mitigated.

3.2 That Malawi government should be reminded that it is the only authority that is mandated by the constitution of Malawi to protect the citizens of Malawi by ensuring that the environment and water are safeguarded from pollution as provided for in section 13 (b) which details principles of National development. The subsection states that
“to manage the environment responsibly in order to
(i) Prevent the degradation of the environment;
(ii) Provide a healthy living and working environment for the people of Malawi;
(iii) Accord full recognition to rights of future generation by means of environmental protection and the sustainable development of natural resources
(iv) Conserve and enhance the biological diversity of Malawi
3.3 That development partners, and all people of good will should come forward to provide us with the technology and expertise for independent auditing for the Kayelekera uranium mine before things go out of hand. We need to immediately establish the baseline concentration of uranium and its derivatives in the water, plants, animals and the people who go to work at the mine.

John Chawinga
CCJP Secretary Mzuzu Diocese


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