By Brenna Matendere
Gweru residents fear a Covid-19 explosion due to poor waste disposal mechanisms amid reports that children are retrieving used face masks and other items meant to protect against the novel coronavirus, from a dumpsite close to Woodlands Park.
This comes in the wake of recent reports indicating that informal traders could be recycling used coronavirus protection items for resale in Harare and other parts of the country.
Woodlands Park was set up several years ago, a few metres away from the already existing dumpsite, which has constantly drawn outcries from residents, engineers and health experts.
Developed by River Valley Properties that is run by Gweru businesswoman, Smelly Dube, Woodlands has about 5 000 households.
Last year, The Standard in conjunction with Information for Development Trust, a non-profit making media organisation, conducted an in depth investigation which revealed that the suburb was established too close to the dumping site where used medical waste and rubbish from across Gweru are trashed.
Dube says Woodlands was handed over to the Gweru council in 2013 and the local authority is the one responsible for services in the area because it is collecting rates from the beneficiaries of the project.
A quick survey showed that residents in Woodlands Park and other parts of the city are being exposed to coronavirus infection due to the dumpsite risk, overcrowding and the general failure to observe social distancing.
To date, Gweru has not recorded a single positive Covid-19 case but at least 300 people are in self-isolation, health experts say, amid concerns that the testing reach is still limited.
A number of scare cases at local health centres have been experienced, with the latest being of a doctor from Wilkins Hospital in Harare, who visited his family in Gweru for the weekend and displayed symptoms of the disease.
He was briefly admitted at a Gweru private hospital, causing panic among health workers at the institution, before being transferred to Harare.
Obert Rupanga, the Woodlands Park suburb’s ward development committee chairperson told The Standard that children stray into the dumpsite and pick materials to play with.
“Actually, some children pick up used personal protective equipment like face masks and gloves dumped from hospitals,” Rupanga said.
“They wear these when playing and take them to their homes.
“We need help because we are at a great risk of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have approached the Gweru City Council and they said money to relocate the dumpsite is on this year’s budget but we are concerned that, in the meantime, people may easily perish.”
It is possible that waste from homes occupied by those in self-isolation is finding its way to the dumpsite, a popular playground for children and hunting ground for informal traders specialising in waste recycling, Rupanga added.
The Gweru municipality has been demolishing unapproved structures at the popular Kudzanayi bus terminus and green market and dump the rubbish at the Woodlands site, also raising fears that the virus could be on the rubble.
There is no police outpost in Woodlands and the absence of law enforcers results in residents defying the social distancing requirement, according to Parirenyatwa Nyika, the ward 16 councillor for Vungu RDC under whose jurisdiction Woodlands Park falls.
While Woodlands Park is administered by the Vungu council, it receives services like water and sewer reticulation from Gweru. This irregularity is making it difficult for vulnerable residents to receive ongoing government aid meant to cushion citizens against the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown that commenced on March 30 and extended to May 17.
“At the social welfare ministry they say we are from a rural area and so we cannot benefit from the government grant yet the suburb is in Gweru,” Nyika said.
“I have had to battle to submit a list of people struggling here due to the lockdown so that they get allowances promised to cushion those affected by the lockdown mostly in the informal sector.”
Plans to relocate the dumpsite to a farm along Lower Gweru was stalled after the ouster of former president Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017.
Council reportedly wants to set up a new suburb known as Mkoba 21 where the Woodlands dumpsite is located.
Chiundura constituency Member of Parliament, Livingston Chimina said he was aware of the Covid-19 risk in Woodlands Park.
“I have been there to witness the challenges and I am going to take the matter up with relevant authorities,” Chiundura said.
“There is too much hunger there so people are failing to observe social distancing and are not staying at home as they have to earn a living.”
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