Rising pollution poses environmental challenges to Zimbabwe

People have learned to live with rot as complaints about growing urban pollution fall on deaf ears

Jeffrey Moyo   | 23.09.2021
Rising pollution poses environmental challenges to Zimbabwe File Photo

HARARE, Zimbabwe

A public toilet at Copacabana bus terminal in the Zimbabwean capital Harare lies locked to the public while behind it the stench of human waste and urine permeates the air, with flies hovering in the vicinity and vendors nearby obliviously going about their business.

One of the vendors hawking sweets and cigarettes, 47-year-old Nerdy Muyambo said they have stopped worrying about the pollution around them.

Co-existing with pollution

“Yes, we have learned to co-exist with the stench here. People just urinate in the open and at times sneak into the alleyways to relieve themselves because often toilets are out of order,” she (Muyambo) told Anadolu Agency.

Even environmental activists here say Zimbabwe’s cities and towns have become heavily polluted because local authorities are underfunded to pay their workers.

From towns and cities stretching from Limpopo to Zambezi River, environmental activists like Tenias Mhande said “garbage is going for months uncollected, putting people’s health at risk.”

“This is the growing urban pollution we always complain about. But our complaints are falling on deaf ears, meaning this urban pollution will continue to worsen. There has to be a revolution to end this rot in our towns and cities,” Mhande told Anadolu Agency.

But Zimbabwe boasts of having nearly 20 Acts and nearly 40 statutory laws in place to protect the country’s environment, in particular fending off pollution like the one being endured by Muyambo as she fights for survival through vending in Harare.

Such laws have hardly worked in any way, according to many like Reuben Akili, Program Manager for the Combined Harare Residents Trust (CHRA).

“Our greatest challenges lie within the gap between policy and practice both at the citizen and government levels. We have good laws that are aimed at controlling pollution, but the implementation is weak,” Akili told Anadolu Agency.

Although many urban vendors like Muyambo have had to make do with pollution every day of their lives, Zimbabwe’s environmental legislation is in fact administered by various government departments, with the Ministry of Environment administering most of those acts that deal with the environment directly.

Nonetheless, towns and cities where many like Muyambo do their trade still have to contend with growing pollution, meaning their health is at stake.

For this, local authorities are to blame, according to climate change expert Godfrey Sibanda.

“City councils are to blame for the crisis. There is need to educate people on causes of pollution and how to avert it. The government is also to blame for not coming up with policies that prevent pollution,” Sibanda told Anadolu Agency.

Even with control measures to end pollution, Sibanda said: “Where policies exist, there is no monitoring mechanism.”

With pollution now rife in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, he (Sibanda) said: “There is acid rain which destroys buildings, dirty air which causes respiratory diseases and also dirty polluted water which causes ingestion diseases and climate change.”

- No funds to tackle pollution

Yet human rights defenders like Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa director with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, blamed bankruptcy for Zimbabwe’s worsening urban pollution.

Not only that but also lack of human resources to help defeat the rot.

“Rising pollution and environmental damage in towns and cities are due to multiple factors. Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency lacks human and financial resources and capacity to adequately monitor and protect the environment,” Mavhinga told Anadolu Agency.

According to Mavhinga, with pollution growing worse and worse in this Southern African nation, “the laws need to be changed because the fines for environmental degradation are too little to be a deterrent.”

He said: “The judiciary needs specialized training on environmental issues because oftentimes there is little appreciation of the value of the environment and the importance of protecting it.”

Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust, said: “Pollution largely emanates from uncollected garbage that continues to pile at shopping centers, public open spaces, street corners, and in the central business districts in urban centers.”

“Where heaps of uncollected garbage continue to pile, flies manifest, diseases break out, and when the rains fall, the garbage is washed away and blocks our drainage system,” Shumba told Anadolu Agency.

- Worsening air pollution

With little or zero care taken to fend off pollution here, Shumba said: “In most instances, disgruntled people resort to burning uncollected garbage, causing air pollution which brings with it respiratory diseases.”

As a result, air pollution continues unabated, according to climate change expert Happison Chikova.

“In many cities, there are no litter bins. Urban agriculture is not controlled and people just plough land anywhere, which is not sustainable. And when it rains the plowed areas are washed away, causing massive erosion that fills water bodies costing local authorities in terms of treating water for consumption,” Chikova told Anadolu Agency.

But corruption has also fueled pollution of Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, according to Chikova.

“Garbage is not being collected because funds are being looted by corrupt council officials. We can’t blame the citizens because there are no waste bins on the streets. In fact, the whole blame should be apportioned to local authorities,” said Chikova.

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