Water pollution: Govt acts

HARARE - With pollution of the environment and water bodies across Zimbabwe at its peak, government has set a June 30 deadline for all polluters to shape up or ship out.

At a recent inter-ministerial meeting on pollution, minister of Local Government Public Works and Urban Development Ignatius Chombo said a new committee, working closely with the Environmental Management Agency (Ema), would assist in enforcing the deadline. He said the committee has been mandated to ensure that everything goes according to plan.

“I think the six-week gap until the deadline is very generous considering what is happening to the environment.

“However, I believe that since they are in business, they will do everything in their power to ensure that they meet the set requirements,” Chombo said.

He indicated that tanneries which discharge heavy and poisonous metals such as arsenic and chromium into water bodies should immediately stop operating and only resume after repairing or erecting approved pre-treatment plants.

Chombo said councils were among the major polluters as they discharge raw sewage directly into water bodies and the environment.

He said this, coupled by unplanned settlements, posed a threat to human life and the environment as people are now relying on shallow wells as water sources which are heavily contaminated.

“We have proceeded to instruct council to chart a road-map to redress the situation; recommissioning of Firle Treatment Works by May 31 at a cost of $1 million upon completion of the remaining 44 megalitre per day project under Zimfund and the recommissioning of Crowborough effluent ponds by May 13, 2014,” Chombo said.

He said Bulawayo City was discharging raw sewage into its water bodies, with efforts to rehabilitate its waste water treatment works and sewage outflows at an estimated cost of more than $13 million.

Tapuwa Mashingaidze, general manager of Zimphos,  said economic reasons are affecting some of the maintenance work that needs to be done for pollution control.

Mashingaidze said general refurbishment alone on the plant would cost between $17 and $20 million, with about $2 million of that money scheduled to be used on pollution control.

“There is a financial element in terms of some of the things that we have to do, in terms of improving and maintaining what we already have. We need a more realistic time frame for a place as big as Zimphos,” he said.

Harare City Council town clerk Tendai Mahachi indicated that the city’s water department was using $3 million instead of $1,5 million in water treatment chemicals because of the pollution.

A status report on waste water infrastructure in Harare shows that the capital is using only 30 percent of the design capacity of the waste water treatment works.

The report indicates that the eight plants have a design capacity of 299,5 megalitres a day, with a combined water reticulation system of 6 900.

“In addition, the waste water inflows outstrip the design capacity.

“The situation is further aggravated by non-reticulated households polluting the environment,” the report says.

Petronella Shoko, Ema director of environmental protection,  told the Daily News on Sunday that groundwater was not safe to drink because of contaminated seepage.

She said all those who had dug shallow wells to alleviate their water problems should have them tested to see if the water is fit for human consumption.

“Drinking water coming to the surface should be tested because it may be polluted by seepage from above. It’s the responsibility of the owner of the well to get it tested to see if it is safe for use,” she said.

Shoko said companies which deal in animal hides, commonly called tanneries, discharge chromium 6 into the environment which causes cancer.

Chromium 6 oxide is a strong oxidant that dissolves to form chromium acid, which corrodes human organs.

It may cause cramps and paralysis with the lethal dose being approximately one to two grams.

Besides water pollution, there is also air pollution going on.

A recent visit to Ridgeview in Belvedere showed that a thick black cloud hovers around the suburb emanating from the nearby Zesa Holdings (Zesa) power-station.

Black dust could be seen on rooftops, with employees in the area as well as residents saying it had been on-going for almost one year.

One gardener in the area only identified as Sinyoro said there have been reports to Zesa about the emissions but nothing has been done.

“There is so much dust coming from Zesa that causes eyes to sting when one is outdoors.

“It sticks on windows and rooftops such that every day we have to be sweeping this black dust off our houses,” he said.

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) Rutendo Bonde highlighted that Zimbabwe had become a poisoned country with all the pollutants filtering into water sources.

She said the deadline was welcome as it was bringing water issues to the forefront since they had long been neglected.

“The right to clean water is a human rights issue and the deadline should make companies act on their obligation to the people.

“Hazardous chemicals have been seeping into fresh water and somewhere along the line we are drinking effluent from all this,” Bonde said.

She highlighted that apart from the water, the effluent harms the fauna and flora in the environment.

Bonde emphasised that it was high time the nation goes green in order to avoid the long-term effects of chemically-poisoned water.

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