Zambia has been predominantly a mining country, endowed with mineral wealth that includes copper, cobalt, gold, nickel, lead, silver, uranium, zinc, and numerous precious and semi-precious stones [1]. Kabwe, Zambia, was once the site of prominent lead and zinc mining activities. Although the mine was formally closed in 1994, mining residues were abandoned in a dumping site adjacent to residential areas, locally known as Black Mountain, and continued to contaminate surrounding areas through the flow of wind and water [2]. In the vicinity of the abandoned mine, the soils have also been contaminated by heavy metals [1].

Presently, Kabwe is listed as one of the ten most polluted sites in the world and the health conditions of its residents are concerning [2]. Research has shown that inhabitants of Kabwe have very high blood levels of the toxic heavy metals lead and Cadmium [3]. In a recent study, 74.9% of residents from 372 households had blood lead levels (BLLs) greater than 5 μg/dL, the standard reference level for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is one of the most serious and harmful consequences of environmental pollution. High levels of lead intake adversely affect the functioning of the circulatory and nervous systems, which can be fatal in extreme cases, whereas low-level exposure can also reduce cognitive ability and cause developmental disorders [2].

Mining operations also impact air quality. In the mining towns of the Copperbelt Province, miners and residents have endlessly been exposed to elevated concentrations of SO2 and PM. Residents of mining towns, particularly Mufulira, reportedly complain of an array of diseases including pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) and other respiratory complications associated with mine air pollution [1].

In accordance with the World Health Organization's guidelines, the air quality in Zambia is considered moderately unsafe. The most recent data indicates the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 is more than double the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3 [4].

Waste management has emerged as one of the greatest challenges facing Lusaka City, the capital and largest city of Zambia [5]. According to the Lusaka City Council and Environmental Council, Lusaka generates about 1,000 tons of solid waste a day. However, only about 300 tons of the waste is disposed of at the designated dumpsites and treated in a sustainable environmental manner [6]. As a result, indiscriminate illegal dumping [5] and the open burning of waste are common practices [7], [8]. Solid Waste Management (SWM) is a major public health concern worldwide as poor management of waste not only leads to declining environmental health conditions but also contributes to disease outbreaks [6].


Contributors to poor air quality in Zambia include copper mining, fertilizer manufacturing, vehicle emissions, and waste burning [4]. Air pollution from indoor sources is the single largest contributor to the negative health effects of air pollution in Zambia, causing an estimated 8,700 premature deaths every year. The majority of the population relies heavily on charcoal and firewood for heating and cooking, whilst candles and kerosene are used for lighting [9].

The growth of the urban population and increased economic activity has resulted in greater generation and the accumulation of waste in Zambia. In Lusaka, challenges affecting an efficient sustainable waste management system include the lack of waste separation at the source, insufficient funds, and a lack of equipment [6].


Key policies and governance approach

The Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990 establishes Zambia's Environmental Council with a mandate to protect the environment, control pollution, and provide for the welfare of humans through the health of the natural environment. Sections of the Act are dedicated to water, air, waste, noise, natural resource conservation and other environmental aspects [10].

In 2004, the then Environmental Council developed the National Solid Waste Management Strategy for Zambia which proposes integrated approaches to addressing the problem of poor solid waste management [11].

The Environmental Management Act of 2011 renames Zambia's Environmental Council into the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) and states its composition and functions. Part III is dedicated to integrated environmental management and includes a section on environmental impact assessments. Part IV details various aspects of environmental protection and pollution control. Part VI addresses environmental information, education and awareness, and environmental research  [10]. ZEMA regulates all matters related to environmental management, including approving environmental impact assessments for all prescribed projects. For the case of dumpsites or landfills, the ZEMA must issue an annually renewable operating license [7], [8].

The Local Government Act (cap. 281 of the Laws of Zambia) empowers local authorities to enact by-laws applicable in their parts of the country. Laws on air quality, cleanness of surroundings, people movement, etc., are particularly expected [7], [8].

The primary law governing the mining sector in Zambia is the Mines and Minerals Development Act No. 11 of 2015 (MMDA) as amended by the Mines and Minerals Development (Amendment) Act No. 14 of 2016. The MMDA deals with mining rights, licences, large-scale mining rights, gemstone mining, health and safety, environmental protection, and geological services for analysis, royalties, and charges [12]



Several challenges exist for ZEMA in effectively implementing its mandate, stemming from inadequate human and financial resources [13], [14]. For instance, air pollution is regulated by ZEMA through a Statutory Instrument No.141, called the Air Pollution Control (Licensing and Emission) Regulations. This piece of legislation calls for self-regulation among polluters by submitting their bi-annual returns (reports) to ZEMA for assessment and to ensure that they emit below the statutory limits. However, this system has some inherent weaknesses as ZEMA lacks the human and technical capacity to verify the reports received and consequently mining companies continue to emit SO2 and PM in excess of both national and international limits [1]In brief, greater staffing and funding is required for ZEMA’s professional functioning [14].

In addition, there is also low public awareness amongst local communities regarding environmental pollution and the mechanisms that have been put in place to combat pollution [14], [15]. Creation of environmental awareness to local people is a best option to curbing problems of environmental pollution and therefore, ZEMA should embark on sensitizing people on the dangers of pollution [15].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The World Bank-funded $65.6 million Zambia Mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project (ZMERIP) aims to reduce environmental health risks in critically polluted mining areas. The project specifically targets the communities living in Chingola, Kabwe, Kitwe and Mufulira municipalities, including lead exposure in Kabwe municipality.

ZMERIP is financing the following interventions which will benefit communities, especially the poor and vulnerable, living in targeted contaminated areas: rehabilitation and closure of a pilot tailing dam and overburden site in the Copperbelt; in-situ remediation of contaminated soils in targeted households in the 4 municipalities; upgradation of infrastructure to prevent outflow of pollution from the main canal and greening and infrastructural upgrades of schools in Kabwe; sensitization and public awareness of hazards of lead and other heavy metal pollution; income generation and environmentally safe livelihoods for women and unemployed youth; testing and treatment of children with high blood lead levels in Kabwe; and improved technical and institutional capacity of regulatory authorities for environmental monitoring and compliance [16].


[1], [2], [13], [14], [15], [17]

  • It is recommended that the Government of Zambia increase budget allocations and releases for the Zambia Environmental Management Agency.
  • Funding and technical assistance could result in more frequent reports on the environmental and social state of Zambia, improving the overall information available.
  • ZEMA must take measures to ensure accountability to the public in delivering its mandate for pollution control.
  • Efforts to develop freedom of information legislation should continue and should ensure that access to information on investment-related land acquisitions is included in its scope.
  • A coherent mainstreaming of sustainability concerns across all ministries, including mandates to specifically address sustainability, could redirect government emphasis towards the sustainability of investments, over the quantity of investments.
  • In addition to government mainstreaming, Zambia’s focus should be on building citizen awareness, accountability and equity, to improve the ability of the country as a whole to embrace sustainability.
  • Zambia should ensure that the laws and regulations on mining and the environment are enforced.
  • Interventions to reduce lead transportation, such as capping mine waste dumping sites with concrete or clean soil, would be of fundamental importance.
  • In order to have a comprehensive understanding of the extent of adverse impacts of mine air pollution on human health and the economic costs, future research involving interdisciplinary research groups is recommended.
  • ZEMA should embark on sensitizing people on the dangers of pollution and deploy more field workers so as to reach even remote areas when disseminating information on pollution.
  • The Government should put up measures to penalise all culprits of environmental pollution.

[1] Mwaanga, P., Silondwa, M., Kasali, G. and Banda, P.M., 2019. Preliminary review of mine air pollution in Zambia. Heliyon5(9), p.e02485.

[2] Yamada, D., Hiwatari, M., Hangoma, P. et al. Assessing the population-wide exposure to lead pollution in Kabwe, Zambia: an econometric estimation based on survey data. Sci Rep 10, 15092 (2020).

[3] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (2020). Zambia: Kabwe is one of the most polluted places on Earth as a result of the long history of lead and zinc mining.

[4] IAMAT (2020). [Online]. Available:

[5] WOIMA (2021). [Online]. Available:

[6] Sambo, Joy & Muchindu, Mazuba & Nyambe, Sikopo & Yamauchi, Taro. (2020). Sustainable Solid Waste Management: An Assessment of Solid Waste Treatment in Lusaka, Zambia. 39-050. 10.34416/svc.00022.


[8] UNIDO (2019). Waste Management Study – Chongwe, Zambia Assessment of Opportunities for the Reduction of Open Burning Practices.

[9] UNEP (2015). Zambia Air Quality Policies.

[10] Harmony with Nature, United Nations (2021). [Online]. Available:!!CuzwS2QYJNUR0GIXnFRAF8nR6Jkg7LizeGGodtqaIBkBPJuiX!laHSIRjrxJWCyxT1l2G0kg==.

[11] Environmental Council of Zambia (2004). National Solid Waste Management Strategy for Zambia.

[12] Eric Suwilanji Silwamba, Joseph Alexander Jalasi, and Lubinda Linyama (2020). Mining regulation in Zambia. [Online]. Available:

[13] Fair Water Futures. Dirty water: Accounting for pollution control in Zambia Findings of the Fair Water Futures programme.

[14] Sambo PT, Haywood C, Wardell DA, Kibugi R and Cordonier Segger M-C. 2015. Enabling legal frameworks for sustainable land use investments in Zambia: Legal assessment report. Occasional Paper 141. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.


[16] The World Bank (2020). [Online]. Available:

[17] Human Rights Watch (2019). “We Have to Be Worried” The Impact of Lead Contamination on Children’s Rights in Kabwe, Zambia.