The Sunday Mail
HARARE is discharging half a billion litres of raw sewage into Lake Chivero daily, according to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
Lake Chivero is Greater Harare’s major source of portable water for its close to three million residents.
This population is literally feasting on faecal matter and other dangerous chemicals that pose serious health risks.
One wonders if the thousands of aquaphiles who frequent Lake Chivero to cool off in the water are aware of the amount of effluent in their favourite water body.
The soaring temperatures in the country have seen many people using sections of Lake Chivero for leisure activities that include playing in the water.
While swimming, people tend to unintentionally take swigs of water.
In this case, revellers are drinking from an insanely polluted source. Their health is at risk.
In addition to this, residents that are “lucky” to be receiving tap water complain that it is stinky, foams when boiled and might be carrying water borne diseases.
Experts say the tap water does not meet the required standards. According to the World Health Organisation guidelines, water for human consumption must be free from any chemical contamination.
Who is polluting Lake Chivero?
Industrial, agricultural and domestic activities taking place in the city are to blame for the pollution.
Once considered a source of clean water and disease-free fish, the lake is now a serious health hazard.
The level of water pollution has reached environmental disaster proportions.
A survey conducted by EMA revealed that the country’s city and town councils are largely to blame for water pollution in the major dams. Harare tops the list.
The municipal sewage system has basically collapsed.
Chitungwiza Municipality, about 25 kilometres south-east of the capital, has also contributed massively to the pollution of Lake Chivero by emptying its waste into two rivers that flow into the lake.
Also contributing to the threat of the capital city’s main water supply is the spread of fast growing water hyacinth weed. The floating weed covers a large portion of the lake and is soaking up oxygen and sunlight, thereby killing fish and reducing both the quality and volume of water.
Artisanal gold mining on Kintyre Estate is another menace aiding the pollution.
As a result of the pollution, Harare City Council now requires nine chemicals to treat the water to satisfactory levels. According to experts, these quantities of chemicals are also a health hazard.
The lake, which is also a national park, hosts all kinds of land and aqua creatures – most notably fish, a delicacy for many.
But, the high levels of coliform bacteria such as E. coli from human faeces and dangerous other pollutants are choking the natural life in the lake.
Hundreds of thousands of dead fish are floating in the lake due to that pollution. Enterprising fish mongers are making a killing by selling these to unsuspecting customers at much lower prices, thereby exposing them to waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
The latest episode of massive fish deaths in Lake Chivero was mostly due to deoxygenation compounded by excessive pollution.
Ecologists attribute the fish deaths to drought induced low levels of water as well as heavy pollution by sewer and industrial chemical waste from the city and surrounding towns.
A biological science researcher from a local university confirmed that the excessive water pollution is contributing to the fish deaths.
“The Harare City Council is dumping its sludge into Manyame River, which flows into the lake,” he said, adding that this major source of pollution should be avoided.
Most residents are worried
“The fish from these vendors smell funny, they don’t taste fresh at all. Some are selling them at very low prices, which makes one wonder what is really going on,” said one resident after buying five big breams for $25.
The same ‘healthy’ breams can fetch up to $80 in the same area.
Health experts have warned of a health hazard, saying the situation is a ticking time bomb.
Effects of water pollution
The continued use of Lake Chivero’s polluted water can result in the outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases as was the case in the year 2008.
Furthermore, polluted water is expensive to treat as it needs more chemicals. As a result, Harare City Council needs approximately US$3 million a month to purchase these chemicals.
This in turn increases the cost of clean portable water for the end user.
Ecologists say chemical pollutants disrupt the natural food chain consumed by tiny animals, which are in turn eaten by larger animals. This spreads the pollutants to the other animals, including human beings.
Water pollution has been documented as a contributor to a wide range of health problems and disorders in humans.
Doctors say a heavy load of nitrates in water can cause the blue baby syndrome, in which babies turn blue due to lack of oxygen.
Where to from here?
Recently, Harare City Council said the water situation must be declared a national emergency issue so that resources can be channelled towards construction of new water sources, including the long awaited Kunzvi, Musami and Mazowe Dams.
Commenting on what options the city fathers have, Mayor Herbert Gomba said decommissioning Lake Chivero would spell disaster as the City would be left without any water.
Council believes that through rehabilitating all its major water treatment plants, public health threats and environmental pollution will be reduced.
Experts say there is need for additional waste water facilities.
Ecologist Rigno Chitambwe said industries should pre-treat their waste water before discharging it into water bodies.
“The effluent should meet the prescribed EMA standards,” he said.
He said citizens must also be empowered to hold polluters to account. This can be achieved through environmental campaigns and encouraging residents to raise the alarm with responsible authorities whenever there is need.
What does the law say?
The Constitution of Zimbabwe states that every person has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. That environment must then be protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
The discharge of pollutants, waste water and effluent into any water body is prohibited, except in cases where it is done under a licence from EMA.
The Urban Councils Act prohibits the discharge of sewage into waterways. It also stipulates fines for defaulters.