Water pollution, Zambian villagers sue mining giant Vedanta in UK court

Zambian villagers claim a giant copper mine under UK-based Vedanta has polluted their waters. They’ve now won the right to have their case heard in British courts.

1,800 villagers living downstream the Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) in the Zambian Copperbelt region are demanding an end to 12 years of pollution near the town of Chingola and KCM’s Nchanga copper mine, which has turned the adjacent Kafue into a river of acid. The villagers are suing Vedanta, a London-based mining group, and its subsidiary KCM in the UK for personal injury and loss of livelihood, having won a previous High Court hearing that decided they could pursue the case in the country’s courts.

foil vedanta
In December activists of grassroots organisation Foil Vedanta made a trip to Zambia to investigate KCM’s operations. Here protesting outside Vedanta’s annual meeting © Foil Vedanta

Water unfit for consumption

People from the four villages of Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are seeking compensation for loss and damage to their land and health. They claim their primary sources for drinking, washing, bathing and irrigating farms are surface water and shallow wells next to the giant Nchanga copper mine. A number of scientific papers have documented the extent of contamination of these, with acidity and heavy metal contents regularly tens and even hundreds of times above legal limits.

One villager, Judith Kapumba, gave video testimony of how contamination has destroyed local community’s livelihood and lives, claiming that many have “collapsed and died” as a result of illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water, and that crops can no longer grow, leading to starvation and poverty.

A court case will decide if a copper mine has been polluting the water these women are carrying © Moses Miti

Zambian legal system too weak

During the UK court hearing Vedanta argued that the case against it and KCM should be heard in Zambia. But High Court judge Sir Peter Coulson dismissed the multinational’s claims, saying he feared that villagers wouldn’t get justice in their own country because they wouldn’t be able to afford lawyers and adding that the Zambian legal system wouldn’t be able to cope with such a large and long trial.

Copper looted river polluted © Foil Vedanta
Foil Vedanta protest © Foil Vedanta

Financial secrecy, historical dishonesty

KCM is guilty of financial secrecy, historical dishonesty and attempts to pervert the course of justice, according to Judge Coulson’s sentence, as reported by the Phulbari Solidarity Group, which opposes a proposed open-pit mine in Bangladesh’s Phulbari region. During the trial, in fact, it was revealed that KCM has never filed annual accounts to the Zambian government in accordance with the Zambian Companies Act.

Meanwhile, Vedanta has issued an announcement to the London Stock Exchange indicating that it is considering whether to appeal the decision. The full trial is likely to take place before the end of 2017.

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