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Dam pollution hits livelihoods hard

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SOKO—It has happened again

Companies that churn out loads of effluent are supposed to properly manage it so that it does not despoil the environment. But THOMAS KACHERE has found that, in Chiradzulu District, waste dumped where it should not has terribly polluted a dam that was, until recently, a well of hope for hundreds of households.

A horrible stench welcomes you when you approach a dam which Sable Farming Company handed over to surrounding communities in Chiradzulu.

Flies buzz about as they feast on dead fish and other aquatic animals floating on the dam, which people use for irrigation, laundry and fishing.

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The water is apparently contaminated with chicken droppings and chemicals dumped by Speedy’s Food Industries Limited into a river that flows into the dam.

When we visited the place, we found some people picking dead fish from the dam. They said they would eat the fish despite that it might be a health hazard.

Frances Moses from Jekete Village is a farmer and fisher who used to benefit a lot from the dam. He recalls that, some years ago, the dam was also polluted, disturbing livelihoods of those who largely depend on it.

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“We cannot use the water for irrigation when it is polluted because, if we did, our crops wither and eventually dry. Authorities should come in and help us. Whoever is doing this must be punished,” Moses says.

Another farmer, Shyreen Nkhata, says the pollution has disrupted irrigation farming such that the water cannot be used for washing clothes.

“It is unfair to us who live in villages surrounding the dam. The company that is dumping the waste in the river should find a better way of managing their waste,” Nkhata says.

Chairperson of Chiradzulu Citizens Alliance, Precious Soko, has vows that they will push for justice in the environmental scandal.

Soko says if the people were not assisted accordingly, they would stage demonstrations against the polluters.

“It happened in 2016 and it has happened again. We have companies upstream that rear chickens and dump the waste into trenches which spill into a river that flows into the dam,” he says, adding that he believes one of these companies is responsible for the pollution.

According to Soko, locals from villages surrounding the dam have been picking up dead fish which might be harmful to their health.

“The companies make millions of Kwacha from their businesses but choose to improperly manage the waste that they produce, endangering lives of poor people. Six villages that use the dam have been affected.

“As young people, we will petition the District Commissioner and the Ministry of Trade so that they can assist us. We know the effects of such pollution might be long term,” Soko adds.

The pollution has shocked Programmes Manager at Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy Gloria Kamoto, who argues water sources must be protected at all cost so that it is safe for both human beings and aquatic animals to use the water.

Kamoto believes the operationalisation of the Environmental Management Act, which looks at issues such as pollution, would significantly help in addressing the inappropriate management of waste.

“This is a wakeup call for us on how we can deal with companies that fail to manage the waste that they produce. While they contribute to economic development, they must also play their role in caring for the environment,” she says.

Speedy’s Farm Manager, Balesaria Yusuf, argues that the spillage could be possible only if somebody tampers with the trenches.

He also says the company does everything possible to ensure all the waste that it produces goes into pits created for such purpose.

According to Yusuf, the company also gives away the waste to farmers who use it as manure, a development which apparently reduces the amount that goes into the trenches.

“In the meantime, no one has approached the company with the allegations that we are spilling waste into the river. However, we will follow the matter up and do the needful if we are indeed responsible,” he said.

He further argues that there are several companies that produce waste such that it was not definitive that Speedy’s was the one responsible.

The World Heal th Organisation reports that 80 percent of diseases that humans suffer from are water-borne. Infirmities such as typhoid, cholera, poliomyelitis and hepatitis spread though polluted water.

The toxins in industrial waste are the major cause of immune suppression, reproductive organs failure and acute poisoning which can deplete aquatic animals as well as birds.

With Sustainable Development Goal 3 asking nations to ensure healthy lives of their people, more, obviously, needs to be done to curb the kind of pollution that is contaminating water bodies.

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