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Lack of mitigation compliance ranks high in railway project

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Residents of Mwanza, who are staying along the rail line, must be a happy lot now that locomotives are testing the line.

However, despite the completion of the project, there are a few other things residents claim have remained unresolved in spite of their repeated efforts to engage responsible authorities.

One such problematic area is at Nikisi Village in Traditional Authority Kanduku. The village is separated by the railway line which cuts off the connecting road, leaving a school and graveyard on one side and a forest and rundown kindergarten on the other.

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During a visit, Village Head Nikisi lamented the social and environmental problems they are facing and called for urgent mitigation measures by Vale Logistics Limited, a developer, as compliance to the Environment Management Plan (EMP) which was stipulated in the Environment Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).

A concerned Nikisi told to a group of CSOs and the media that the absence of a bridge between the separated villages is making life unbearable for school-going children.

He complained that the developer has also not fulfilled his promise to rehabilitate a kindergarten block which collapsed as a result of rock blast during the project.

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“The kindergarten block collapsed as a result of rock blasting, it has not been renovated despite our repeated calls. And there is also no road connecting between the separated villages now. This is making mobility of the villagers problematic,” said Nikisi.

The chief observed that despite reporting these challenges to responsible authorities at Mwanza boma last year September, their concerns have not been addressed.

He also called for the removal of the spoil site in his village, arguing it a source of air pollution in the area. The chief said the dust was a source of respiratory problems and was affecting crop production as it inhibits the photosynthesis process.

Other uncompleted infrastructures include a teacher’s house which was earlier demolished during construction work at Mphate and an agriculture extension officer’s staff house at Mulongolola Village.

Gloria Majiga, Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) Advocacy and Justice Programme Officer, said it was a cause of concern for Vale to finalise its projects without meeting mitigation measures.

“There is a need to see to it that issues that were stipulated in the EMP as part of mitigation are accomplished,” said Majiga adding, “it was high time that benchmarks for assessing compliances as stipulated in the Environment Management Act were adhered to.”

“The ESIA report states that the specific impacts are refined through; addressing the losses and compensation of land assets, managing unrealistic expectations with regard to lands, compensation, resettlement negotiations, and the project impact in the area. As part of mitigation measures there will be control and monitoring measures implemented, aimed at minimizing these specific impacts, during the pre-construction phase. These measures are described in detail in the Socio- Economic Management Plan,” reads the report.

But in a letter dated June 2, 2015 by Tiwonge Mbale, Acting Director of Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) titled Environmental Compliance Monitoring Findings for Vale Railway Line Project in Mwanza, the inspection team from the department observed that in some sites there was still uncompleted works.

“For instance, water drainage systems are poorly done, restoration of social structures and other infrastructure facilities, including a kindergarten that was damaged during construction have not been completed. This was part of validation of the developer in September to March 2015 environmental report.”

EAD acting director gave the June 30 deadline to Vale to ensure that all burrow pits are rehabilitated as required by the EMP. The developer was advised to remove the spoil pile at Thambala Village. Vale was also supposed to replace a borehole that was producing bad water as this would be a health hazard to the surrounding communities.

Director of Public Works, William Kulapani, explained that a building contractor abandoned work before completion. As such the council has been urging the contractor to finish the work but to no avail.

“We are considering terminating the contract and report this to the National Construction Council. As a way forward we have sat down as council and sourced quotations from other contractors so that they can finalise the work. We are comparing quotations,” said Kulapani.

Responding to the accusations, Vale Logistics Management said in a press release that the company ensures that negative environmental impacts caused by the project are well mitigated for the benefit of the people living close to railway. The statement further emphasized that it remains committed to adhere to the provisions of EMP contained in the environmental impact assessment license which the EAD granted them in 2011 for the Nacala Corridor project.

“We have a maintenance team to ensure that all drainages are well maintained for effective railway operations. All burrow pits were rehabilitated and we have already informed Government.”

The statement added that the company was aware of the situation of the spoil site at Nikisi and promised that the spoil would be spread out, compacted and re-shaped so that the material is not loose.

On the borehole issue, Vale said it engaged the Malawi Bureau of Standards for water quality testing in February 2015, and none of the boreholes drilled in Mwanza District showed presence of ecoli bacteria.

The statement further said Vale also provided water guard and chlorine kits to communities where boreholes were drilled for treating the water.

Regarding the railway crossing at Nikisi Village, the developer clarified that a better place for pedestrian crossing was found some 800 meters from this place and it has been constructed.

On the issue about the demolished kindergarten at Nikisi that communities claimed was demolished as a result of blasting, Vale explained that the initial structure was mud thatched and it collapsed as a result of heavy rains.

“Our contractor made a commitment to support them, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, with 50 iron sheets and 20 bags of cement.”

Through the Civil Society Engagement in Environmental Policy Processes project funded by Tilitonse Fund, the initiative has capacitated participant CSO’s to effectively lobby for various policies under the thematic areas of land and environment.

The aim of the initiative was to achieve accountable and inclusive environmental governance for the betterment of all.

One of the key elements of this important project has been evidence based advocacy which relates the need for a policy to what is happening on the ground. It is against this background, that the Nacala railway project was sampled for evidence based advocacy towards transparent and accountable environmental governance.

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