MUTARE – Mutare City Council (MCC) has come under a barrage of criticism from environmentalists for allowing raw sewage to flow into its rivers and streams, thus posing serious health dangers to communities that depend on the water sources.
With the municipality’s sewer system giving in to old age and years of under-investment, the network has been leaking like a sieve and presenting major headaches to the city fathers.
Because of the city’s rugged terrain and its scenic environs, it is not really easy for the untrained eye to see the pollution that communities are grappling with in silence.
The ticking health time bomb that could explode any time is only betrayed by the pungent smell emanating from bridges straddling some of the city’s rivers and streams.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) chairperson Passmore Nyakureba told the Eastern News that council was acting negligently.
“This is a clear case of dereliction of duty on the part of council.
“They should not be seen to be the ones who are polluting the environment and this is where the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) should step in,” said the ZimRights boss.
Council has already been the subject of countless litigation over the pollution.
It has so far lost three court cases over the pollution of river sources after the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela), Environment Africa and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority decided to see justice at different intervals in the courts.
In all cases, council tried to blame the economic environment for the crisis.
The new council administration under town clerk, Joshua Maligwa, has promised to act on the problem.
MCC public relations officer Spren Mutiwi said they have already rolled out a programme to address sewerage leakages in many streams.
He said council has since begun the establishment of a new line to replace the old system that was designed for much fewer people in the 1960s and 1970s.
“We are already establishing a new line and what is left is to complete the crossing so that we link the sewerage into the new system and address once and for all the pollution,” said Mutiwi.
“Before Christmas we completed the upgrading of Nyamauru River and stopped another sewerage that was being discharged into the stream.
“So, we are working on a permanent plan and work is in progress. We have come up with long and short term plans to address the problem.
“In this ongoing programme we are looking at all the trunks that feed into the streams and identify possible leakages and deal with them one by one.
“We are currently working in Chikanga addressing similar problems and once we complete that we will shift focus to complete the sewerage leakage at Nyamauru.
“So, it’s a plan that we are implementing to address the problem which is affecting the local authority,” Mutiwi said.
Efforts to contact Ema were fruitless by the time of going to press.
The city, which was voted the cleanest even amidst the practice that has been going on for decades, has been largely blaming industries for the fresh water pollution while claiming its pollution was mostly emanating from its sewage plants.
This narrative was exposed when it received a $10 million grant to upgrade its sewage and water works, which was completed in 2015.
The money was received from a multi-donor fund administered by the World Bank and the African Development Bank for the expansion of water systems in Mutare and the rehabilitation of sewage treatment facilities.
The fund was created after the country was hit by a devastating cholera epidemic in 2008 but clearly the risk of water-borne disease outbreaks is still looming large for the city.
The river is still a stinking slew of black slim and downstream Dora residents are yet to notice any difference.
Despite completing the upgrade, the stench from Sakubva River, whose fast moving catchment streams are being abused, did not go away.
“There is no sign whatsoever that there was any significant investment in the sewage network,” Joseph Matika a Dora villager said.
Lucia Mauchaza describes the city’s continued poisoning of the river and its tributaries as irresponsible and criminal.
“City of Mutare officials have no conscience. They are so used to draining raw sewage into the rivers and they have lost any consideration for us Dora residents.
“It’s so irresponsible and they should even be prosecuted but I guess it’s now normal to see the river so black even long before it exits the city,” Mauchaza said.