Acid mine drainage ‘more than a legacy issue’
SOUTH Africa’s acid mine drainage (AMD) problem is as much one of the present as of the past, World Wide Fund for Nature SA (WWF-SA) biodiversity unit head Deon Nel said on Thursday.
The R30bn rehabilitation "hangover" from abandoned mines was likely to increase if mining companies’ provisions to fix it were not improved, the WWF-SA said in a report released this week.
If mining companies are not properly prepared to finance the process, taxpayers are more likely to end up paying for the cleanup of the damage.
AMD pollutes water, and experts are worried that the Vaal River system will soon be unable to dilute adequately the waste water that enters the water supply to Gauteng — South Africa’s and Africa’s economic hub.
It is projected that South Africa could run out of water by 2025, and Gauteng as early as 2015.
"Whilst the current perception is that our acid mine drainage challenge is a legacy issue from the past, this research points out that in fact we may be making exactly the same mistakes currently, by leaving loopholes in the way in which mining financial provisions are determined and being held," said Mr Nel, referring to research released this week by a team of experts from the University of Cape Town’s school of economics, and its department of accounting, and other independent consultants.
The research was commissioned by the WWF-SA.
It found that mining companies seldom provided for proper rehabilitation funding. WWF believes this problem would persist, unless mining companies and governments act quickly to close loopholes in the processes of funding clean mine closure.
In 2009, the auditor-general estimated the bill for cleaning up existing abandoned mines could top R30bn.
The Treasury has already set aside R225m to fix an AMD problem, which the Trans-Caledon Mining Authority has estimated will cost about R2bn to remedy.
Mr Nel said the eastern escarpment, the source of most of SA’s water, faced the biggest environmental risks from mining.
The continuing controversy over the water supply to the Mpumalanga town of Carolina, where water was contaminated by AMD in mid-January, proves that these problems persist. There is growing public concern that those who profit from mining are not footing the bill for the resultant environmental damage.
WWF-SA commissioned the report to examine how South Africa was failing to assess how much money would in fact be needed for proper mine cleanups.
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