'Scavengers' return to Pomona

HARARE - Petros Mauri pokes through piles of smoldering garbage — the remains of a fierce fire that engulfed Pomona dumpsite and raged on for the better part of a week.

The Epworth resident, who is one of the plus 200 people who work in this makeshift community, has made the 46-kilometre journey from his home to this landfill to rummage for aluminium, plastic containers and other recycle products for re-sell.

His journey had almost been in vain as the Pomona dump site was up in flames due to extreme heat which combined with biological decomposition to cause a spontaneous combustion.

As much as emergency services departments including the army and volunteers have battled hard to douse the blaze the remains continue to emit dangerous fumes from the combustion of a wide range of materials.

The dangers of disease and inescapable hazards have, however, not fazed ‘‘scavengers’’ who have slowly clawed back into the dumpsite.

“Today I didn’t find much,” says Mauri hoisting a small sack full of burnt metal onto his back.

“But at least we are back in business. It’s dirty work, but it’s very honourable because we are not stealing,” he adds.

The scavengers have found a niche in a country whose local authorities are still to embrace sustainable solid waste management practices that include converting waste into energy and reduction of waste generation.

With rising joblessness and increasing poverty, the “scavenging” industry has become a way out for many.

Unbelievably, the scavengers say they pay a fee of $5 to the Harare City Council (HCC) to be allowed to scrounge for recyclable goods in the landfill.

“Since 1997 I have been coming to this dumpsite doing recycling,” says one picker who identified himself as Mathew.

“What I get is small. We recycle sellable items such as plastic, glass bottles, aluminium cans and copper. Our money is determined by the weight of out items. But we don’t pick it for free. We pay $5 dollars to council to be allowed to do this,” he says.

Matthew who resides in Dzivarasekwa warned that anyone who attempted to enter the dumpsite and “work” without paying to council would be forced out by other scavengers.

“It’s about 200 of us picking. We all know each other well and the list is there. So you can’t just come and pick because we are paying to be allowed to do this,” he says.

“There is no money but it’s enough to survive.”

However, other scavengers quickly scurry for cover the moment they hear that there is a news crew in the landfill precincts.

The Pomona dumpsite has in the past been condemned by the Environmental Management Authority (Ema) as posing a serious health hazard to residents.

Residents had been made to believe that HCC would decommission the dumpsite by the end 2013, to turn the landfill into a play field.

At that time they were suggestions that HCC had settled on a site in Mount Hampden and once their prospectus had been approved by the Ema, they would conduct a DIA study.

This was after HCC noted that the life of the dumpsite which was opened in 1984 had come to an end.

However, the proposal was shot down because of the area’s proximity to human settlement.

To add to that in terms of Statutory Instrument number 6 on Effluent and Solid Waste Disposal Regulations of 2007, all local authorities were given a five-year period to migrate from open dumpsites to properly lined and engineered landfill sites from 2007.

This was to avoid  dangers associated with open dumping  which range from breeding places for disease causing vectors such as flies, cockroaches and rodents, odour and fire outbreaks which can either be human ignited or spontaneous.

Despite all these regulations, the Pomona dumpsite has remained operational.

It thus came as no surprise when the same poor waste management practices at Pomona caused a land fill fire in 2013 before again coming back to haunt HCC in the early hours of last week Sunday.

Ema who are often blamed for not taking decisive action to protect the environment said they would not allow such things to continue.

“Before the outbreak of the fire at Pomona, orders were issued by Ema to the city of Harare, to decommission Pomona and have a properly lined landfill,” the agency said this week.

“The city was also brought before the Environment Management Board on the 12th of September 2016 on various environmental issues including poor waste management in general and Pomona dumpsite in particular. The city was convicted on waste management,” said Ema in a statement.

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