Kabwe, the world’s most toxic town, needs help

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World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 every year, and is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment. First held in 1974, it has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, resulting from discussions on the integration of human interactions and the environment. Two years later, in 1974 the first WED was held with the theme “Only One Earth”.

For almost five decades, World Environment Day has been raising awareness, supporting action, and driving changes for the environment.

Marking this year’s World Environmental Day, Socialist Party 2021 presidential candidate Dr Fred M’membe said this is a people’s day for encouraging awareness and action to protect our environment and turned our attention to the plight of the people of Kabwe.

“On this day our reflections and thoughts take us to Kabwe kamukuba, the world’s most toxic town, according to pollution experts, where mass lead poisoning has almost certainly damaged the brains and other organs of generations of children – and where children continue to be poisoned every day.

Almost a century of lead uncaring, reckless and inhuman capitalist mining and smelting has left a truly toxic legacy in this historic town of our country where liberation decisions were made by Dr Kenneth Kaunda and his comrades in UNIP and later Oliver Tambo and the leadership of the African National Congress.

And renowned scientists have warned us that the real impact on Kabwe’s people is yet to be fully revealed and new dangers are emerging as desperately poor people scavenge in the vast slag heap known as Black Mountain.

Environmental health expert at New York University Professor Jack Caravanos says, ‘Having been to probably 20 toxic hotspots throughout the world, and seeing mercury, chromium and many contaminated lead sites, [I can say] the scale in Kabwe is unprecedented. There are thousands of people affected here, not hundreds as in other places.’

The fumes from the smelter, which closed in 1994, has left the dusty soil in the surrounding area with extreme levels of lead. The metal, still used around the world in car batteries, is a potent neurotoxin and is particularly damaging to children. But it is youngsters who swallow the most, especially as infants when they start to play outside and frequently put their hands in their mouths.

We make a clarion call to you all to join the struggle against all those destroying our environment and endangering lives in their bid to maximise profits.”

These are reflections and thoughts we cannot continue to ignore. Urgent action is needed. And the Zambian government may not be in a position to solve this problem by itself. International solidarity and assistance is certainly needed.

We urge the United Nations to help focus international environmental attention on Kabwe.