DRC minister blames Angolan diamond mine leak for fish deaths

Published on
September 13, 2021
A photo of the polluted Tshikapa River and dead fish resulting from a diamond mine leak.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has confirmed pollution that has killed huge numbers of fish beginning in July 2021 in the Kasai River Basin, particularly along the Tshikapa River, is due to a leakage of a tailings dam at one of the biggest diamond mines in neighboring Angola, the BBC reported.

DRC Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba said the leakage, which has been traced to the Catoca Mine which produces up to 75 percent of Angola’s diamonds and is owned by the state-operated Endiama and Russia’s Alrosa, left “tons of dead fish floating on the Tshikapa River.”

At least 12 people died and 4,500 others became sick as a result of the spillage. Other reports estimate as many as one million people may have eaten the dead fish, which had been poisoned by the pollution. 

It has taken several weeks for the DRC government to officially trace and confirm the source of the pollution, although the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center (CRREBaC) had in early August 2021 called on the government to take urgent action avert the worsening of the disaster.

“Since the beginning of August 2021, the riparian communities in the Kasai River Basin, along the Tshikapa and Kasaï rivers, have been experiencing an unprecedented environmental and human disaster due to water pollution from mining activities in the headwater catchments located in Angola,” a statement by CRREBaC said.

It said the pollution may have started as early as 15 July, 2021, and called on the DRC authorities to “ensure that there is immediate cessation of pollutants discharge into rivers from the source in Angola.”

Bazaiba indicated the DRC will seek compensation from Angola, although there has been no acceptance of liability by either Catoca or the Angolan government.

The Tshikapa River feeds into the Congo River, which itself flows into the wider Congo Basin, one of DRC’s biggest freshwater fishery resources.

Photo courtesy of the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center

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