Mine waste in Angola kills 12 people downstream in Congo, minister says

LUANDA, Angola – First of all, the river turned red. Then dead fish per ton rose to the surface. Then thousands of people started to g...


LUANDA, Angola – First of all, the river turned red. Then dead fish per ton rose to the surface. Then thousands of people started to get sick.

Today, 12 people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in what researchers have called “an unprecedented environmental and human catastrophe” along the Kasai River, a southern tributary of the mighty Congo River.

Researchers and Congolese government officials say the cause was a toxic leak upstream from Angola’s largest diamond mine, run by Catoca, a joint venture owned by Endiama, the Angolan state-owned mining company, and Russian mining giant Alrosa.

The company admitted in a statement last month that there had been a leak from its facility, but said it was only water and sand – nothing toxic.

In addition to the 12 deaths, around 4,500 people contracted diarrhea from pollution and nearly a million were affected in total, said Eve Bazaiba, Congolese Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. in a press conference Thursday.

“This is a total destruction of ecosystems, especially aquatic biodiversity,” said Ms. Bazaiba, who visited the region.

She said people living near the water noticed around July 26 that something strange was happening on the Tshikapa River, which flows north from Angola, where it is spelled Chicapa, and then to the Congo, flowing into Kasai.

At first, they thought small-scale diamond miners were the root of the problem, she said. But then, on July 31, the situation worsened.

“They noticed that there were dead fish. Lots of dead fish – tons and tons of them floating in the river, ”Ms. Bazaiba said.

A team dispatched to the scene reported that two hippos were also dead. “Everyone was panicking,” she said.

The government warned people not to eat fish and took water samples for analysis in laboratories in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. A week later, the results returned. The water sample contained heavy metals – nickel and iron – and its pH levels were off, according to the minister.

“It’s practically sour,” she said. “It sucks oxygen from the water. There is no more life there.

Researchers from the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center at the University of Kinshasa have called the pollution of the Kasai Basin an “unprecedented environmental and human disaster”. In a report published in mid-August, they said they had been following the spill from its source in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul provinces in Angola since July 15, and that it took 15 days to reach the town of Tshikapa, at the confluence of the Tshikapa and Kasai. He said two million people were in danger.

The immediate consequences of the disaster so far, according to the report, include water pollution, poisoning and loss of aquatic flora and fauna, water-borne diseases for riparian communities, disruption of waterways. fishing and boating activities and lack of access to domestic water services.

He warned that the pollution could spread downstream to the section of the river that crosses the vast metropolis of Kinshasa, one of the most populous in Africa.

Ms Bazaiba said she hoped the voluminous waters of the Congo River – right after those of the Amazon – would dilute the pollution by the time it reached the capital, adding that the waters were starting to clear.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to determine the source of the pollution, she said, but must follow the procedure because it is from a foreign country.

“We don’t know exactly if it was an accident,” she said, “or if it was known.”

Ms Bazaiba said the Angolan government and the company have acknowledged that the pollution is coming from the Catoca mine. She added that Congo would seek compensation under the “polluter pays principle”.

But the Angolan government has not said anything about it publicly. An official from the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Culture, who was not authorized to speak in public and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ministry had not received any official information from the Congolese government. The official said the only information the ministry had was that it had gleaned from the media and that investigations were still ongoing.

A company employee, who was not authorized to speak and spoke on condition of anonymity, denied that Catoca had confirmed the Congolese government’s claim that there had been a toxic spill.

The Catoca mine produces three quarters of Angolan diamonds. One of its owners, the Russian company Alrosa, has been in recent years try to increase sales in the United States.

In a statement released last month, the company admitted there had been a “rupture in the pipeline that functions as a spillway.” But he said that whatever sank in the river was a mixture of sand and water. He specified that an investigation had been carried out and that “the recorded situation did not represent a risk for the life of the population”.

The company employee said Catoca did not use the heavy metals described by the Congolese minister.

“There could not be any toxic material coming from the Catoca mine because the mine does not use such material,” said the employee. “It was a concentration of sand and water, or to be clear, it was mud.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Mine waste in Angola kills 12 people downstream in Congo, minister says
Mine waste in Angola kills 12 people downstream in Congo, minister says
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