Statement by Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Ms Buyelwa Sonjica on the Inter-Ministerial Committee on acid mine drainage (AMD)
6 Sep 2010
Over the past few months the issue of acid mine drainage (AMD) has been widely reported on by the media, there have been discussions, accusation have been leveled primarily at government for having done nothing to resolve the problem. We have also witnessed an escalation of claims of toxic mine water that will flood the streets of the Johannesburg CBD in the coming months. Having given due regard to this matter, I must make it clear that I am in no way making light of or downplaying the potential threats of AMD but I want to again give my assurance that the situation is under control.
Dealing with mine water effluent including AMD is a normal consequence of mining activities and is a challenge not unique to South Africa, but one that is experienced all over the world. In our country, its been in existence for over a 100 years at the time when mining began. It is also important that you realise that no legislative measures were in place then and environmental considerations were not prioritised.
In 2002 our government realised the negative impact that mine effluent has on the environment and the threat it poses to our natural resources such as water. Over the past 15 years we have systematically strengthened environmental regulation through the introduction of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) and the National Water Act (NWA).
This has been informed by international best practice and the inclusion of key principles such as the polluter pays principle and so on. Included in these regulations is the provision for mine closure management plans as a pre-requisite for the granting of future mining licenses. In addition mine closure management plans make provision for rehabilitation measures.
In light of the information at our disposal regarding the threat of AMD to the environment and human health, I am happy to announce that cabinet has appointed an inter-ministerial Committee to address the current challenges of AMD. The committee has already had its first meeting and our first order of business has been chart a way forward. These are the resolutions of the IMC at its first meeting.
Appointment of a team of experts that will:
- appraise the risk
- asses what has been done by various institutions
- assess available solutions and technology
- interrogate and asses viability and costs of critical short-term interventions
- integrate lasting and sustainable medium and long term solution
- explore possible partnerships with private sector
This Inter-Ministerial Committee wishes to re-emphasise the point that effectively dealing with the legacy of mine water effluent including acid mine drainage will require rational, sound, and targeted interventions to deal with short-term challenges whilst ensuring that additional measures are introduced to enhance efforts to deal with medium-to-long term mine water management. In addition, effectively dealing with these challenges requires a collective and unified effort by all of the social partners, including the mining industry and Scientific Research Councils (SRCs).
It is important to note that government acknowledges the potential risks associated with mine water management and the need for a lasting solution. We remain committed to ensuring that the rise in the water table under the central basin remains below critical levels, and that there are measures in place to deal effectively with water that is already decanting in the Western Basin. Having said that, this Inter-ministerial Committee calls for intelligent and mature discourse on the issue of AMD we also urge the media to report responsibly and to be aware that some of the pronouncements that are made on the matter are aimed at serving particular interests private interests.
This Inter-Ministerial Committee will reconvene, in six weeks time, to receive a detailed report from a team of experts, covering a reappraisal of the risks and assessment of what has been done as well as the viability and costs of critical short-term interventions. Simultaneously, work continues on the development of a medium-to-long term strategy which will be presented to the Inter-Ministerial Committee in a few months time.
Issued by: Department of Water Affairs
6 Sep 2010
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