March 2, 2012

Government rejects coal transport on Zambezi river

Government has rejected the plan by the Australian company Riversdale to transport coal to the sea by barging it down the Zambezi river - on environmental grounds. In 2011 Riversdale (taken over by Rio Tinto) submitted an Environmental Impact Report on coal barges, which it had commissioned from the specialist Mozambican company Impacto. Although the Report did not find that transporting coal down the river would cause significant damage, the government has decided not to authorise it. Transport Minister Paulo Zucula said that the impact would be "very negative, and there were no plans for mitigation. As proposed, it is not doable".

Since the Zambezi suffers regular floods, Zucula feared that plans to dredge the river and widen the banks, to allow barges to pass would be asking for trouble. He added that the barges were also expected to affect fish populations in the river. Zucula also said that Rio Tinto was welcome to rework and resubmit its plans, but he stressed that Mozambique would prefer mining companies to move their coal by rail. "We can assure everybody that we will build enough rail capacity to carry their coal. The problem is timing," Zucula said. "Coal is a development project for us, so we are a most interested party", he said. "The planning of infrastructure and the mine plans do not match yet, but we are making every effort to make them match".

Rio Tinto is not the only company whose plans have been turned down for environmental reasons. As the daily "Noticias" has noted, the environmental impact study review commission in the Environment Ministry rejected 146 investment projects in 2011. Samuel Xirinda, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, said the projects were returned to their proponents because the Ministry believed they violated aspects of the country's environmental legislation. A third of the 437 projects were rejected. The projects came from almost all provinces; they included two tourism projects on Tofinho beach in Inhambane province, a mining project in Tete, and a road transport project in Maputo. Xirinda also noted that, if a company pressed ahead with a project without Ministry approval for its environmental impact report, it risked fines of up to five million meticais (more than 183,000 US dollars), and the work would be embargoed.
He also recognised that some investors systematically violated Mozambican environmental legislation - and he believed that most of them did so deliberately, and not because they were unaware of the norms. (AIM)

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