Phosphate mining: Let the science speak for itself

29 May 2015
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The dust refuses to settle over the proposed N$3.1 billion Sandpiper Marine Phosphate Project, a project that has divided environmentalists, the fishing industry and those in Government.

Delays by the Government-appointed Norwegian scientists to finalise a study which would determine whether or not marine phosphate mining poses a threat to the fishing sector has not helped matters.

The fishing sector and other environmentalists are well within their rights to object to marine phosphate mining which has been banned in other parts of the world, notably Australia, because of the fear that such operations will have a negative impact on the sea environment and on fishing stocks.

But in the absence of any scientific proof that this will be so, any concerns by the environmentalists and the fishing sector appear to be conjecture at this stage.

The fact that there is no country in the world that is involved in marine phosphate mining does not mean that Namibia cannot be a world leader in this area.

But of course the science has to guide us on the way forward; not greediness, self-interest, or emotions.

Some two years ago, Namibia Marine Phosphate announced that it was embarking on a N$14 verification programme that will see the company work together with scientists and officials from the ministries of environment and fisheries to ascertain whether marine phosphate mining is detrimental to fishing operations.

By law, companies are not required to do a verification programme of their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), but Namibia Marine Phosphate was willing to go the extra mile to ensure that the fishing community’s fears and concerns are addressed by putting together funds for a verification programme that was going to ascertain the scientific opinions stipulated in their EIA report.

It is a pity that Government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, declined to be part of this initiative which could have burst all the myths and fears surrounding marine phosphate mining.

While it would be folly for the Government to give the green light on marine phosphate mining without the necessary scientific studies to prove its impact, if any, on fishing stocks, we need timelines of when such studies should be completed.

We cannot continue holding investors hostage because of the absence of such studies. We need to change our mind-set on the way we do business.

Marine Phosphate mining, like the fishing industry, is a billion dollar industry, which could bring a lot of economic benefits to the country.

We need to have closure on this controversial project, and the sooner we do that, the better for everyone.

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