Harare grapples with air pollution

HARARE - “It is an issue of survival not conservation sisi, tikarega kuita izvozvi toita sei? (If we do not do this what else can we do?”  Fungai Chikwara said removing wires from burnt tyres.

Air pollution has become one of Harare’s growing concerns.

But unemployment is forcing some enterprising youths into fencing wire making and door frame production using raw materials drawn from worn-out tyres.

Those in the trade claim they are getting good money but residents close to Fungai’s business angrily charge that he is a menace to their health.

“It is difficult to sleep well, the black smoke from the burning of tyres chokes us,” said 32-year-old Mavis Tigere of Highfield. “I was once treated of TB and I am sure it is because of these guys.”

But for Fungai, this is the only way to put food on the table.

“The income is good, never mind the health implications, we do not even buy milk for ourselves because we have more pressing needs,” Fungai said, apparently oblivious to the environmental and health concerns that surround his job.

With around 80 percent unemployment, many have turned to this craft for survival, but it takes a heavy toll on the environment.

Most of these activities have irked environmentalists who argue that the damage being done to the environment outweighs the benefits accumulated from such activities.

Steady Kangata, the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) education and publicity manager, said the body is worried by the human contribution to air pollution.

“Over the last decade, there has been an increase in the incidences of air pollution and this is posing a huge threat to the health of pregnant mothers,” Kangata said.

“The concentration of air pollution is going up in Harare due to various activities such as the burning of waste and car tyres.

“Vehicle and industry emissions are further compromising the safety of the air that we breathe.” Ema is a statutory body responsible for ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and protection of the environment, prevention of pollution and environmental degradation.

It was established under the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27) and operationalised on March 17, 2003, through statutory instrument 103 of 2003.

Emissions are regulated under the Air Pollution Control Regulations statutory instrument 72 of 2009 of the Ema Act.

According to Kangata, the impacts of air pollution can pose a danger to humanity if it goes unabated.

“Many people wake up to strange smells in the early hours of the day, these emissions can cause health problems for example asthma, inflammation of the lungs and infections,” he said.

Medical experts say air pollution could lead to emphysema (accumulation of smoke in lungs), chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, heart attacks and stroke.

Dry air contains 78,09 percent nitrogen, 20,95 percent oxygen, 0,93 percent argon, 0,039 percent carbon dioxide and small amounts of other gases.

The economic impact include corrosion of building materials such as lime stone blocks and roofing sheets from acid rain generated from sulphur dioxide emissions and can cause dysfunction of sensitive ecosystems.

“When we make you pay $5 000 for offending the environment, we are not being cruel but we are simply trying to ensure that there is clean and healthy ambient air for everyone,” said Kangata, explaining most of the money is used to rehabilitate destabilised environments.

Air pollution comes in two main categories mobile sources (motor vehicles) and stationary sources (industries).

Following an increase in vehicle emissions, Ema is mooting introducing a half year vehicle emissions license which is likely to be pegged at $10. Drivers who will be caught on the wrong side of the mooted amendment will pay $20 in fines while repeated offenders will fork out $300.

Harare is the most affected and has witnessed a 10 fold increase in sulphur dioxide concentration in the last 15 years.

Ema has successfully fined and closed several companies found polluting.

At one time, Kangata said, 25 percent of out-patients in hospitals were victims of air pollution, adding that a human being inhales an average of 16 kilograms of air in a day.

Though Ema emphasises community participation, some residents fear straining relations.

Highfield resident Patience Maenzanise said “reporting to police or Ema will only result in threats and insults from our neighbours who are earning a living from such activities.

Also they light the tyres during the night.”

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