Several heavily-polluted and stinking rivers cut through the city of Blantyre which was once among Africa’s neatest and cleanest. But residents and traders in search of survival still turn to the dirty waters, enduring pungent stenches, because that is the most convenient option for them as THOMAS KACHERE writes.
Just like other countries world over, Malawi has not been spared the catastrophic effects of environmental degradation resulting from human activity.
In recent years, the country has experienced devastating floods from heavy rains washing away top soil, disturbing agricultural activities in the process and human settlement with multitudes left homeless and destitute.
In such events food crisis creeps in, additional to other crises like those bordering on health, water and shelter.
While such events may seem to be nature-specific, urban dwellers are not safe either since companies that provide employment to the very people that migrate from villages to towns have over time become a threat to their lives.
These companies have turned natural amenities like rivers into dumpsites, threatening lives of those who depend on water from such sources.
For so long, companies have been accused of contributing to water and air pollution, an act environmentalists have described as harmful.
In Blantyre City, near the Clock Tower Bridge, lies a broken sewer tank which has been draining human waste into Mudi River for months now.
Apart from producing a terrible stench to the surrounding area, this broken sewer pipe spills waste into its surroundings further affecting people downstream.
Thus, residents downstream, who rely on the river for bathing, drinking water and laundry, are living in danger.
James Kaliyera, a vendor in Blantyre City says as traders, they been affected by the stench and believes there is a high risk of contracting waterborne diseases from the polluted river.
Kaliyera adds that sometimes they bath from the river and states that he once developed sores all over his skin which he now believes might have been from the polluted water “Many people depend on Mudi River. It is only God who protects us. While others bath in here, there are people who wash vegetables for sale right here,” he says.
Kaliyera, who comes from Manje Township to do business in the Central Business District (CBD), says government should be stricter by taking to task all individuals and companies found polluting rivers.
He thinks authorities should be vigilant in ensuring sustainable waste disposal.
Alinafe Mzundi, who sells mobile phone airtime near Mibawa Minibus Terminal in Blantyre CBD, argued that the government is failing in its responsibility of ensuring that companies and people do not use the river as a dumping site.
“I come here to sell airtime and that is how I survive. Talking about Mudi River, there is nothing I can do because that is how those polluting it want us to live down here,” she said.
She said the government should deploy environmental officers who should be doing inspection works and monitoring the river and reporting pollution.
Health rights activist Maziko Matemba said the pollution is unfortunate as it is a health hazard to people.
“The spillage in Mudi River is uncalled for. We have been notified about it and verified that there is spillage of waste and water and we are urging [Blantyre City Council] to rectify the problem because it has an effect on the health of people in Blantyre.
“There are people who use water from the river to wash certain merchandise including vegetables. We are living in very difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic, so it is important that we rectify existing health problems,” Matemba said.
Asked why it is taking long to repair the sewer system and take to task companies that are polluting Mudi River, BCC spokesperson, Anthony Kasunda, said the council relies on reports from well-wishers and that maintenance is routine work.
“We attend to the emergencies when we receive reports of broken sewer tanks. We have also been doing maintenance works in phases and we have already covered the area from Mudi Dam to Ginnery Corner through assistance from the Department of Environmental Affairs,” Kasunda said.
Commenting on the matter, Concerned Youth Organisation (CYO) Executive Director, Harvey Chimaliro, urged BCC to urgently address the problem before it breeds waterborne diseases like cholera and skin infections.
‘’We know that there are many areas that the council is looking after but it should also treat this issue with urgency so that rivers are not breeding grounds for waterborne diseases,” Chimaliro said.