By the end of the last century, the Zambian Copperbelt, responsible for the bulk of that country’s copper production and economic activity had a population density of 37 people per square kilometre, up from the historically sustainable density of 4 people per square kilometre (Limpitlaw, 2003). When these mines were established, there was no planning for closure. As this inevitability draws closer, the plight of the million+ mining-dependant people living in the cities becomes more acute. In this context, mines cannot afford to only invest in restoration of the natural landscape by rehabilitation and complete removal of mining infrastructure – best practice in many developed societies. These operations need to ensure that, in addition to rehabilitating the environment to a sustainable state, they leave behind useable infrastructure and capacitated communities. The same is true for the new uranium operations in Namibia. Without this planning, dependant communities will not only fall back into poverty, but may be completely destroyed, thereby obliterating whatever economic benefit may have been generated by the mine. In a developing country context, the infrastructure created by the mine may provide a unique opportunity for development and, when environmental variables permit, it should be regarded as an asset. Meeting the additional development demands placed on mines at closure in developing contexts is made more difficult by short-termism on the part of developers and some regulators. Governments often focus on project foreign exchange earnings, tax and royalty revenues and short term economic growth when authorising new operations. These factors are incentives as they make election promises more achievable. The horizon for such decisions is frequently the next general election. Mining companies also fall prey to this type of decision making. Blinded by short-lived upturns in commodity cycles or, as in the case of some juniors, by the prospect of on-selling mineral tenements, long term risks are not properly evaluated, often with serious consequences for closure. Mines cannot plan for closure, nor can they ensure that their impacts are minimised, in isolation. SD, by its very nature, requires participation and consensus of many diverse parties. Even a rigorous EIA and closure plan that is pre-occupied with the impacts arising from the mine and does not link in with other operators or local authorities, will not make an optimal contribution to the sustainable development of the region in which the mine occurs.
Limpitlaw, D. and Hoadley, M. (2006). Faultlines in mine closure planning in a developing country context. In A.B. Fourie & M. Tibbett (Eds.), Proceedings of the First International Conference on Mine Closure. Australian Centre for Geomechanics, Perth (pp. 803-809).