A thunderous explosion echoes through the Nora Valley, and a thick cloud of white and grey dust rises from the blast site at a lithium plant. At a nearby school, two students scream with shock and bolt for cover. At a teacher’s house, dust wafts from a widening crack above the entrance door.
Welcome to the Zimbabwean lithium boom. Lithium, a key component in batteries for electric vehicles, has become the fastest-growing industry in Zimbabwe, with Chinese companies investing billions of dollars in the mining and processing of what is sometimes called “white gold.” But along with the surging investment, there is growing controversy over the impact of the Chinese projects on communities and the environment.
Global demand for lithium has been soaring in recent years, and Zimbabwe has some of the biggest reserves in Africa. Chinese investors, eager to boost China’s dominance in the global sector, have been pouring into the country.
Mainly because of Chinese demand, Zimbabwe earned US$209-million from lithium exports in the first nine months of this year, nearly three times more than last year’s earnings, according to government data.
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