Chinese Companies Operating in Zimbabwe Causing “Catastrophic” Environmental Damage

NEW YORK - According to leading environmentalist and human rights activist Farai Maguwu, Chinese companies that have set up shop in Zimbabwe – with some not even having the proper licenses to operate – have been engaging in practices that are wreaking “catastrophic” environmental damage upon the African country.

Chinese companies, especially in the gold, diamond, and chrome mining industries, have been accused of engaging in numerous activities that are extremely detrimental to Zimbabwean eco-systems, including the dumping of toxic waste into local water systems. This has had the result of causing disease in humans, lowered crop yields, killing livestock, and smaller numbers of fish in rivers. Some of the waste is so concentrated that locals are noting that it is actually causing congestion and blockages in waterways, interfering with crop irrigation and the ability for local villages to obtain water.

The University of Zimbabwe is credited with conducting research into the affected water and proving that large-scale contamination has taken place due to the introduction of outside toxic waste. However, it is alleged that the Chinese companies that are purported to be carrying out this horrible pollution are being protected by the Zimbabwean government, as China is a major investor in the country and officials are not willing to overlook the income that they bring into their borders.

In addition, few countries currently support Zimbabwe, due in part to widespread reports of systematic and escalating violations of human rights in the country under the Mugabe administration and the dominant party, the ZANU-PF. Clearly, if someone is willing to overlook these issues and invest in Zimbabwe, the government is quite willing to look the other way if some alleged transgressions are taking place... even if those transgressions threaten the every environment that they people need to survive.

Recently, China has issued funding to Zimbabwe in the form of loans and grants that have allowed the country to engage in several much-needed infrastructural projects, such as expanding the Robert Mugabe International Airport and upgrading several power plants. Yet more funding is expected from China in the future, according to reports.

Pollution from Chinese companies allegedly dumping their toxic waste left and right isn’t the only problem facing Zimbabwe’s environment, unfortunately. Large parts of the country were once covered by forests with abundant wildlife, but deforestation and poaching has taken a huge toll in recent years. Woodland degradation and deforestation, due to population growth, urban expansion and lack of fuel, are major concerns and have led to erosion and land degradation which diminish the amount of fertile soil. Local farmers have also been criticized by environmentalists for burning off vegetation to heat their tobacco barns.

Zimbabwe's commercial farming sector was traditionally a source of exports and foreign exchange, and provided 400,000 jobs. However, the government's land reform program badly damaged the sector, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. The issue with Chinese pollution in the waterways is also starting to have a significant impact upon crop production in the remaining segment of the population that currently engages in farming.

For the past ten years, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics has been assisting Zimbabwe's farmers to adopt conservation agriculture techniques, a sustainable method of farming that can help increase yields. By applying the three principles of minimum soil disturbance, legume-based cropping and the use of organic mulch, farmers can improve infiltration, reduce evaporation and soil erosion, and build up organic soil content.

However, the degree to which these new farming techniques are being undermined by Chinese pollution is currently unknown, and if the Zimbabwean government continues to disregard the damage that these companies are doing to their environment, it’s likely that the problems facing the poor people who scratch their livings from the increasingly poisoned soil and water are only going to get worse.