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Chinese lithium project spurs health catastrophe


Chinese lithium project spurs health catastrophe



HEALTH authorities say a lithium project in Goromonzi is posing a health crisis after employing over 4 000 workers without establishing a static clinic at the plant which has resulted in an upsurge of sexually transmitted infections in the district.


A large number of sex workers have also camped in the area, aggravating the situation. Located 38 kilometres from Harare, Arcadia Lithium Project, which is located in the mountainous Goromonzi area, is owned by Honayou Cobalt which bought out Australian investors Prospect Resources for US$422 million in May last year.

Soon after taking over the lithium-mining operations, the company embarked on a massive drive to recruit workers from across the country to fill vacancies like mobile equipment operators, tipper truck drivers, drilling machine operators, steel fixers, filter machinists, water cart operators, milling machine operators and diesel plant operators, among others. The workforce now stands above 4 000.

However, the large numbers that have flooded Goromonzi have resulted in a spike in diseases — notably STIs — due to the absence of a health centre that can provide services for the prevention and treatment of the ailments.

Grayham Mafoke, the National Aids Council’s Goromonzi district Aids coordinator (DAC), told The NewsHawks during a visit of the Arcadia Lithium Project on Tuesday that in the third quarter of this year, STI cases rose sharply in the district.

“In the whole of Mashonaland East province, Goromonzi district now has the highest cases of STIs. By the end of the third quarter, we had recorded 1 800 cases of STIs. This is because commercial sex workers from as far afield as Chitungwiza and Harare are now flocking the area to lure the workers who are making money yet when they fall sick, there is no permanently located clinic or health centre to assist leading into spread of the diseases.

“The lithium project employs about 4 000 workers and 95% of them are male, mostly from Harare who come to work leaving their families in  the capital city in what we call spousal separation which is driving the rise of the ailments. So without a static health centre around we have seen this increase of diseases that are transmitted sexually in communities where the mine workers are staying,” he said.

Mafoke also revealed that there has since been an emergence of hot-spots in the district at mostly growth points like Juru, Mverechena, Mutangadura, among others.

“In the event that people here want services like treatment, they have to travel to Harare mostly and so you will find out that most people find the distance too long and so if there is an STI that emerges, it circulates more within the community because of lack of treatment,” said Mafoke.
He however revealed that the Health ministry through NAC and other arms, has since planned to have mobile clinics in the area but they are not very effective as they are not static or permanently located.

NAC has also deployed a peer mentor at the mining plant, Sandra Masamba who is helping with having the workers change their behaviour and scale down cases of STIs.

In an interview, she said the plant had become a haven for sex workers and all was being done to try and contain the situation through the provision of contraceptives and HIV self-testing kits.

“When the mine workers finish work and go into the communities, they are taking on STIs as some commercial sex workers are targeting them. We are also on the highway corridors and so the ladies come here a lot so there is need for increased healthcare services,” she said.

Arcadia Lithium mine manager George Togara and deputy general manager Trevor Bannard could not be located for comment, as they were said to have been away from the plant during the visit while efforts to locate them thereafter did not succeed. The company however has a trailblazing record of production and government support.

It estimates to produce an average of 75,z000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of spodumene and 155,000tpa of petalite concentrates during its 20-year mine life.

The pre-feasibility study (PFS) of the project was completed in June 2017.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Arcadia lithium project was held in December 2018. The mine produced an average of 212ktpa of spodumene and 216ktpa of petalite in 2019. In December 2019, Prospect released an updated definitive feasibility study (DFS) based on the proposed 2.4Mtpa mining and processing operation.

The DFS reports an estimated mine life of 15.5 years.

The lithology of the Arcadia lithium project includes greenstone rock units of the Arcturus formation, a part of the Harare Greenstone Belt (HGB). The greenstone belt is a complex refolded synformal structure, cropping out as two major limbs, including an east-west trending Arcturus Limb and a north-south trending Passaford Limb.

The Arcadia project is estimated to contain JORC-compliant proven and probable ore reserves of 37.4 metric tonnes, grading at 1.22% Li₂O and 121ppm Ta₂O₅, according to the updated DFS. It is estimated to contain 1.12Mt of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).

The government selected the Arcadia lithium project as a priority under its Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) in January 2018. The RRI is primarily aimed at improving the ease of doing business in the country and reducing complex administrative procedures for the development of projects.

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