THE decision by Judge Shafimana Ueitele to set aside Environment minister, Pohamba Shifeta’s decision of 2 November 2016 to revoke an environmental clearance certificate earlier issued to Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP), presents worrying concerns that should warrant government’s resolve to intervene through environmental Impact Assessment legislation, regulations and procedures.
Essentially, the decision, that gives credence to an environmental clearance certificate that would allow NMP to proceed with mining seabed phosphate in a part of the Atlantic Ocean, about 120 kilometres south-west of Walvis Bay not only threatens the welfare of the marine ecosystem but further raises concerns about possible negative impacts on the fishing sector.
Although Shifeta is adjudged to have failed to give a fair hearing to NMP before he decided to set aside the environmental clearance certificate that had been issued to the company in September 2016, it is no secret that government’s guarded approach to allowing full-scale phosphate marine mining is rightfully informed by the fact that the country’s coastal waters would become the testing ground for marine phosphate mining, a risk that has never been done anywhere else in the world.
It is with this deep concern that Ueitele’s decision, if not properly assessed and challenged could plunge the livelihoods supported by Namibia’s fishing industries into disarray as the maintenance and rebuilding of Namibia’s fish stocks would precede hindered, and with the constant fear that irreparable harm will be caused by a disruptive activity such as marine phosphate mining.
It is true that the Namibia Marine Phosphate mining concession contains 1.8 billion tonnes of phosphate and is a loosely unconsolidated sandy material on the seafloor. It may well also be true that the country may aim at a 10 percent market share of the traded phosphate market of 30-million tonnes a year and the first phase of the 30-year life-of-mine in Walvis Bay will create 150 direct jobs and other 200 indirect jobs from a turnover of US$300million a year.
However, the risks associated with attempting to harness these benefits stretch wide and without development of a good scientific baseline, potential effects on the Benguela marine ecosystem cannot be undermined.
Under this pretext, we need to be cognisant of the fact that the Namibian fishing industry employs around 15 000 people of which 96 percent are Namibians. Suppliers of goods and services to the industry create numerous more jobs.
Essentially more so, the sustainable management of the Namibian fishing industry, leading to the growth of the biomass and increased value addition in certain sectors of the industry, have the potential to substantially increase the number of people making a living from sustainable jobs in the fishing industry as purported by the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations.
We should from a national level remain committed to the notion that we are the custodians of our natural resources and no one should force us to make money out of our resources. We have duties to keep and maintain our sea from becoming the Dead Sea.
Although the current proposed mining is restricted to a relatively small area of the sea bed, professional opinion as expressed in the EIA report for this project suggests that impact will be very low but most important, we simply will not know for sure the exact impact until mining starts – and that is why the conditions attached to the Environmental Clearance Certificate become vitally important and more importantly this is why the decision to grant it, feels like an own goal.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015