ZELA embracing GIS in its environmental conservation efforts 


17 February 2023

Mining remains a key Sector in Zimbabwe’s economy as it is the top income earner for many Zimbabweans with over half a million people being directly employed in the sector and more than a million employed along the industry’s value chain. However, with mineral extraction comes challenges that include environmental degradation with little or no effort to rehabilitate mined areas. Although the majority of the impacts of mining are said to be “localized”, mining can cause national, transboundary and global environmental problems[1]. Different mining activities that are employed during mining and mineral processing activities have different environmental impacts. These activities include blasting and excavation, loading and hauling of the run of mine materials, beneficiation and waste disposal.

It is the responsibility of everyone to ensure the environment is protected and remains habitable for future generations. The future of natural resource conservation relies on the ability to use the fourth industrial revolution technology to analyse the spatial impact of development activities and have a conclusive analysis of the cost-benefit analysis of every activity as well as modelling of possible outcomes of different intervening activities to reduce and mitigate their negative impacts. Environmental damage by mining activities is inevitable thus the goal is to minimize the impacts. The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) is embracing the Geographical Information system (GIS) and Remote Sensing to acquire knowledge and data about mining activities and their impact on the environment. Recently the organisation carried out a training of community monitors from different protected areas in Zimbabwe which are threatened by mining activities. The training program was meant to capacitate community monitors on how to employ existing and emerging GIS and Remote Sensing technology to monitor and map mining activities in protected areas. GIS and remote sensing technology strengthen oversight and monitoring capacity in the mining sector, thus improving data collection and the general understanding of mining activities and their environmental impacts. GIS and remote sensing technology enables time series analysis on the mining environmental impact assessment; thus it can be utilized by the extractive industry personnel in promoting sustainable development

If properly used GIS technology can be a critical tool in the current environmental conservation effort. The system can be customised to fit the required purpose and produce customizable solutions for surface and subsurface investigation and analysis. It is from the understanding that oftentimes, environmental catastrophes are a result of the inability to view the overall picture and the interlinkages between mining processes and some of the negative impacts of mining activities and plan accordingly that ZELA is embracing the use of GIS for its modelling and network analysis functionality to solve this problem, reducing the amount of guesswork involved in visualizing the impacts of mining activities on the environment.

The system enables a better evaluation of data using cartographic tools to display information stored in a database. With its capabilities for spatial analysis, GIS can reveal hidden patterns and relationships between data that is not readily apparent. The system can also perform complex regional sensitivity analysis geographically identifying areas which are either sensitive to impacts (negative mapping) or resilient (positive mapping). It can provide a more holistic view of the impacts of any development project, on the environment mining included, improving knowledge and overview of information related to the projects’ activities and their impact on the environment.

Impacts of mining activities on the environment can be complicated in such a way that they can be either primary/secondary, short/long duration, immediate/future, reversible/ irreversible onsite/offsite or cumulative in nature and trying to assess the extent of these impacts is a complicated process which requires big data systems like GIS to do the automated analysis. Once a potential impact has been identified, an evaluation of its likelihood, potential severity or magnitude and possible duration is needed. GIS using its ability to link graphics with attributes data, enhanced data sharing, and modelling capabilities can easily do automated analysis and produce various visual products like maps, graphs and reports which can then be used to easily identify possible impacts of the projects as compared to various alternatives hence assist stakeholders in the mining sector make more informed decisions.  

The outcomes of the planned mapping activities are expected to result in improved institutional knowledge of the impact of mining activities in protected areas as well as improve the mining sector’s stakeholders’ capacities to protect the environment from adverse impacts of mining activities across the country. Through the recommendations based on the data that is scientifically backed by GIS, the critical stakeholders in the Zimbabwe extractive industry i.e., government ministries, agencies or authorities and CSOs dealing with mining can ensure that miners take an environmentally and socially responsible approach.

[1] https://www.environmental-auditing.org/media/2930/2010_wgea_mining_guide_a4_web.pdf

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