Home to various wildlife such as cheetah, elephants, and rhinos, the Hwange National Park, the largest national park in Zimbabwe, is about the size of Belgium. But Hwange has been under threat recently, as coal mining sites are set to begin operating in the park. Chinese companies have been making preparations for coal mining in Hwange, leading some environmentalists to express their worries of possible environmental harm caused by the impending operations, which will not only shrink the available wildlife habitat but also increase the conflict between humans and the wildlife.
Zimbabwe is still highly reliant on coal-fired electricity at the moment. Although hydroelectricity is also in use to some degree, its efficacy is greatly diminished in the face of climate change-induced droughts. A mining conglomerate from China has recently received official authorization from the Zimbabwean government to conduct environmental impact assessment on the effect of drilling, land clearing, road construction, and soil test on two designated sites in Hwange, where 10% of Africa’s elephant population dwells.
Damning evidence produced by wildlife protection group Bhejane Trust indicates that certain Chinese companies have already begun taking samples of coal mines. According to activists from Bhejane, such activities should only be conducted after the conclusion – and approval – of environmental impact assessments.
Some environmental conservationists warn that the development of mining sites will greatly shrink Hwange’s wildlife habitat, which is home to such protected species as black rhinos, pangolins, and wild dogs. Furthermore, coal mining is highly destructive to Hwange’s tourism business, which is an important source of income for the locals.
According to a report by Quartz, the coal-mining plan in Hwange is but one example of the Chinese government secretly backing Chinese companies to execute coal-fired power plant build-outs internationally. Although China’s total investment in domestic renewable energy has undergone an exponential growth in recent years, which propelled the country to global PV leadership, Chinese companies have already built hundreds of coal-fired power plants abroad, some of which generate little to no electricity.
It’s no secret that African countries salivate over Chinese investment capital, even at the expense of their local ecology. Just last year, Kenyan judges put a stop to what would have been the first coal-fired power plant in east Africa, funded by China of course. The project was stopped because the principals had not conducted a thorough analysis of how the power plant, if constructed, would impact the various archipelagos in Northeastern Kenya.
Recently, a mass die-off of elephants was found in Hwange. Officials ruled out poachers as the possible cause for the die-off, since ivories on the carcasses were left intact. As well, forensics showed that the deaths were not caused by anthrax, which is frequently used by poachers to kill elephants. As a result, environmentalists generally believe that the elephants died from the stress caused by their gradually shrinking habitat.
Lobbyists believe that Chinese companies’ mining activities will continue to cause further environmental damages, as they have been operating without conducting environmental impact assessments in Hwange and the surrounding areas. These operations have already caused considerable distress to the ecology, wildlife, and local populace of Hwange.
As reported in The Guardian, the mining sites where the Chinese companies operate are located within the original unspoiled regions of Hwange, where the last herd of rhinos in Hwange live, in addition to about 10,000 elephants and 3,000 buffaloes. Should the mining operations continue without restraint, they will spell the end of the Hwange National Park and the local tourism industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.