IT’S early morning and smog envelopes the township of Mucheke as well as Runyararo and Victoria Ranch residential areas, and sometimes the whole of Masvingo central business district. It lasts several hours and then disappears.
To a visitor, it is just another misty morning, but to residents in the town, this is an irritant they cannot stomach anymore. They are incensed by the smoke, houseflies and stench emanating from an unfriendly site.
“We have been exposed to smoke for too long now and we fear for the worst. We do not know what effects the smoke will cause us,” Dadirai Chitsa, a resident living in the new suburb of Victoria Ranch, said.
She says council has ignored residents’ pleas to have the dumps closed and relocated.
Another resident, Shadreck Moyo, is also worried. He described how the smoke that lasts several hours has made their life miserable and unbearable.
“We keep our windows closed most of the time. We have several bouts of coughing which I believe are being caused by the air we breathe from the dump,” he says.
Moyo also complains of a choking odour that comes from the dumpsite, located a few metres away from his house.
The site, which was established in 1998, before Runyararo and Victoria Ranch came into being, has no requisite plant and equipment to push, compact and cover the disposed waste. Council is said to intermittently hire private plant and equipment to push and cover the waste — a scenario it says is not sustainable.
Masvingo chief health officer, Zvepano Munganasa, told NewsDay Weekender that they have received complaints from residents over the issue of the dumpsite.
“As environmentalists and health officers, we are irked and perturbed by the smoke, houseflies and smells emanating from the site,” he said.
“We are aware of the nuisance posed by the current disposal site engulfed by housing developments, but lack of equipment to manage and repossession of an EIA certified new site puts us in a dilemma.”
The city health chief says the current pollution problems have been compounded by the repossession of the Victoria Ranch landfill by the Local Government ministry. Landfill designs for the new site were said to have been done by the city’s engineering department for the cells, leachate ponds, monitoring wells and other supporting structures.
Masvingo municipality expressed concern that they are being forced to foot another Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) bill after the first one, which cost them $200 000.
“We were just about to relocate from the old disposal site to the proposed land when the municipality was informed that the land in question was again repossessed by the Local Government ministry for a housing project.
“We were asked to look for a new site. The whole cycle for advertising and EIA will start again at a non-refundable cost,” Munganasa said.
Environmentalists and health experts worry that the waste from the dump site might propel high concentration of carbon dioxide, and produce methane gas which is highly flammable, and causes health threats to human beings and the environment. Carbon dioxide is the biggest driver of climate change and global warming.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) education and advocacy manager, Steady Kangata said dumps have been outlawed and municipalities were given time to close and move on to waste management systems that are environmentally friendly.
He says despite the situation Masvingo is in, they should make all efforts to maintain the dump site and avoid a situation that residents end up being susceptible to smoke and other persistent organic pollutants that can cause serious health implications.
Kangata explained that a survey conducted by his agency established that 22% of municipal waste was biodegradable, giving a general picture that municipalities should make all efforts to find ways of recycling waste.
“The municipality should try to introduce other environmental measures such as separating waste at source and compacting and covering the waste such that fires does not often breakout,” he said.
“The municipality should come to us on the issue of EIAs or seek partnerships with business to help fund their waste management systems.”
Health expert, Stanley Mungofa said air pollution poses significant danger to human health and can lead to immune disorders, toxic sympathy, chronic obstructive lung disease, blood disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, liver dysfunctions, swelling of feet, cardiac arrhythmia, reactive depression and memory loss.
Mungofa, a former City of Harare director of health said it is both a constitutional and local authority requirement to provide a healthy environment to residents.
Enviromentalist, Christopher Magadza said one of the damaging products of this air pollution is acid rain caused by the sulphur dioxide set free in the atmosphere, where it dissolves into moisture to form sulphuric acid.
Municipalities across the country have been struggling to deal with air pollution. In Harare last year, there was a major outcry when fire broke out at Pomona dumpsite and smoke engulfed the affluent suburbs of Vainona, Marlborough and Borrowdale.
The city battled to put out the fire for days.
Air pollution can affect people directly through breathing contaminated air
and indirectly by damaging the environment.