Mutare turns streams, rivers into sewers

MUTARE - Walking on tip- toe across one of Sakubva River’s tributaries in Chikanga, one freezes and feels an instant urge to throw up.

Solid faeces race through the yellowish brown sewer-chocked current towards the river whose catchment streams Mutare City is clandestinely using as a cheap open-air drainage system.

This is a city the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) has judged the cleanest city in the country for two years running.

Drawing its drinking water upstream of Odzi and Pungwe rivers, the border city has the best piped water in the country.

Using gravitational pull, it arguably has the cheapest as well.

The cruel irony is that while Mutare residents tease friends and relatives in the capital of drinking their own purified urine, many are unaware of the crime their council is committing against communities who depend on the river it has been swamping with excreta for years.

Dora villagers have seen the water quality of their beloved river deteriorate since 1994, according to interviews conducted in November 2006 during a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) study by Solomon Mungure entitled “The power politics and water quality issues: A case of the polluted Sakubva River and contending stakeholders.”

Passing through the city’s industrial, residential and agricultural areas, Sakubva and its tributaries are now the de facto drainage system as the eastern border city claims financial distress.

Its collapsing and low capacity sewage network is damning the social ecology of Dora communities whose mainstay is market gardening as well as river and pit sand extraction.

Villagers say ZNCC awards of cleanliness to the city are an insult to Dora, whose residents feel council is doing little to embrace the responsibilities that go with sitting at the head of a fresh water source.

Matthew Dukwa, a senior council hygiene officer, said his department was fighting its sister department over bursting sewer as they were against the use of streams to drain sewage since this endangered the health of both locals and downstream communities.

He acknowledged constant sewer bursts flowing into streams in Dangamvura and Sakubva.
Investigations by the Daily News revealed the rampant use of streams in sewer management in all high density residential stands and industrial areas.

Even a number of areas in town are not spared.

A stream flowing from Industrial areas right through city council offices near Moffat Hall emits a permanent odour which residents travelling into the city centre from Fern Valley, Dangamvura, Hob House and Sakubva residential areas are now accustomed to.

Mutare urban farmers’ activities are also choking streams with sand and affecting the water with fertilisers which encourage plant growth ahead of all other aquatic life forms.

Downstream, the UZ study notes the “welfare of the Dora villagers has been hard hit by the pollution as livestock losses, environmental deterioration and water-borne diseases persist.

The Sakubva River water has been declared unworthy for domestic, agricultural, recreational and fishing uses.”

It (the report) also observed the community is aware of the state of pollution of the river on the basis of perceptible indicators that include the black water, visible tap worms and the stench that comes from the thick turbid flow.

Locals who talked to the Daily News said cases of diarrheal and skin diseases were common, something that was also noted in the UZ study which reported that families had to closely monitor children to ensure they did not play in or near the river.

Mutare is a fast growing urban border settlement with the Central Statistical Office (CSO) estimates showing a population rise of  to 170 466 in 2002 from 133 467 in 1992 with 2010 City of Mutare Housing and Community Services department estimates placing it at about 200  000.

The need for a sewer system that can move bigger volumes is apparent, there is just no capacity for all the sewage to go through the laid down pipes at any given moment say senior council officials.

A Mutare City Council report to the Sakubva River Rehabilitation Taskforce back in 2003, when the output volume was even lower, noted that the capacity for Town / Yeovil Works is 6,1 mega litres per day but was getting eight mega litres daily, Sakubva Works were designed to handle 4,1 mega litres but is receiving 6 while the main treatment site is Gimboki with a capacity of 23,4 mega litres but receiving 30 daily.

Collectively the sewage system was designed for 33,6 mega litres but is handling 44 mega litres, apart from the fact that the sedimentation tanks are also sand laden with the sewage now essentially flowing over instead of through them, according to the UZ study.

Another research by Nyamushamba and Nenguke in 2003 estimated that up to 70 per cent of sewage from Sakubva Surbub and the Town centre gets to Gimboki Works while still raw.

Senior council officials also claim the raw sewage is still flowing into the river.

But then, as if to revenge the insult of having an upstream neighbour poop in their stream, Dora villagers have a way of feeding Mutare residents with by-products of the faecal matter.

Between Gimboki Sewage Works and Sakubva River is a thriving garden in which both Mutare residents and their colleagues from Dora are diverting part of the sewage-infested river to irrigate their crop which they then sale in the city.

This reporter twice visited the market garden and bought healthy maize cobs fed from sewer marshes turned into a thick maize field where gigantic yam plants are also in plenty supply.

Villagers are already on their second maize crop since October and can plant all year round if only they can find the energy to keep marauding baboons away from this oasis.

An elderly villager from whose garden this reporter bought maize on both occasions said gardeners dug a network of canals that service their fields and sometimes even use their bare hands to scoop water onto some portions of their gardens.

She argued that if one falls ill it would be “God’s plan for that to happen” as she was sure of the safety of the water.

She said many came into these gardens to harvest slug which they then dry before carrying it back into the city for use in their own gardens.

Further down into Dora, an agricultural extension officer interviewed in the 2006 UZ study contended that the state of the river was an obstacle to agricultural progress as livestock, particularly cattle, were dying.

He said there was increasing need to dose cattle with vaccines more often but lack of funds hampered such a move.

The study noted that 55 per cent of the 100 households that participated had lost livestock due to pollution-related health complications with cattle constituting the bulk of affected animals.

Mutare however, also consumes the majority of livestock meat from Dora either through local butcheries or residents travelling into Dora where it is cheaper.

Even fish is abundant here, especially catfish which seem to have adapted well in the muddy sewer many still think of as a river.

During a visit to Dora, this reporter ran into “fishermen” with nets in a pool of the black stinking mucky waters. Catfish thrives in these waters.

One of the fishermen, George, said he sold the fish in the city under the guise that the product is coming from the cleaner Odzi River. - Bernard Chiketo, OWN CORRESPONDENT

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tafadzwa - 13 May 2017

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