How safe is the air we breathe?

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By Courage Shumba

Gweru residents are at a risk of a health catastrophe as they continuously inhale hazardous air from a dumpsite close to Woodlands .Woodlands is in many ways like the Sakubva of Mutare, the Mbare of Harare or the Makokoba of Bulawayo as residents who reside there have been plagued with poor service provision for a longtime.

Residents are exposed to thick clouds of smoke when waste is burnt, and this is problematic for people such as Gregory Mutizwa who is allergic to fumes.

“I have hay fever so when they burn litter at the dump I sneeze so much as I am right across the road from where the dumpsites are. If I could move my house I would”

Speaking at a community meeting, Yeukai Dongo raised concern over the safety of the air that she and other residents are breathing. “Our houses are close to the dumpsites and my main worry is the air that we breathe and the state that our lungs will be in 5 years from now’

Woodlands High density Surbab is situated six meters from Gweru dumpsite and this a violation of Environmental Management Agency (EMA) regulations. The EMA Act 13 of 2002, Section 70 prohibits the discharge of waste in such a manner that causes either pollution to the environment or Ill-health to people.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.9 specifically focuses on the reduction of death and illnesses due to hazardous chemicals and air, soil, water as well as contamination. SDG 11.6 then encourages reduction of the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management systems by 2030 with the mandate to promote sustainable cities.

Deputy Mayor, Cleopas Shiri assured Gweru Residents that Council is aware of the Woodlands Dumpsite issue and that despite all the problems they have been facing in resolving this issue, it still is a priority.

“ The main problem we are facing is that of inflation, be that as it may we will include this in the 2021 budget and now that Devolution funds are being disbursed to lower tiers of government, we believe it will be resolved soon” Shiri explained

The potential health effects associated with living in proximity to dump sites and waste exposure are cancer and congenital malformations. As well as contamination due to the incubation of flies; mosquitoes and rodents which are disease transmitters.

Health Officer, Heroic Matanga, said while no disease outbreaks have been recorded from dumpsites it is important to move the dumpsites to avoid potential disasters.

“Currently no outbreaks have occurred, but relocation is a matter of urgency to avoid any potential outbreaks. No dumpsite should be that close to people.” she said

Tafadzwa Sigauke, a resident who stays 200 meters away from the dumpsite complained of recurring diarhorrea and chest pains and alleged that they were causing medical problems

“We moved here 5 months ago and since then I have been having issues with my chest; my 6 year old boy also struggles with diahorrea time and again and I know it’s caused by these dumps because when we lived in Irvene we did not have such issues” Tafadzwa said

Contestations have been made on the legality of the residential area’s establishment in a legal battle involving Smelly Dube, the director of Mahlaba Housing Program which trades as River Valley Properties on allegations of fraud.
Smelly was alleged to have established Woodlands Park illegally and engaged in bribery of members of Gweru city council who then gave the go ahead for Woodlands to be established despite its proximity to the dumpsite.

Council has unsuccessfully appealed to River Valley Properties for financial assistance in the relocation of the dumpsite.

“ The establishment of the new location necessitated the need to relocate, we engaged the land developer to come in and assist in the relocation but we have not obtained any desirable results” Shiri said. Prompted on the matter, River Valley Properties gave no comment.

Additionally, confusion exists as to whether Woodlands falls under Gweru City Council or Vungu Rural District Council jurisdiction and this makes it extremely difficult to put any duty bearers to task. In a statement, Danny Ndaba, the Counsellor for Ward 14 said Woodlands is under Vungu Rural District Council but gets services such as water and waste management from Gweru City Council causing confusion.

“Originally, Woodlands was a farm under Vungu Rural District Council but because of all the needs of Woodlands Residents, services then come from Gweru City Council” Councilor Ndaba said

A mother from woodlands who refused to be named said that children from woodlands were even playing on the dumpsites exposing themselves to danger and inhaling dangerous fumes.

“ The dumpsites are too close to our houses and children even play there; inhaling the smoke and playing with waste”

Ward 16 Community Development Chairperson Obert Rupanga expressed that these dumpsites were also increasing residents’ vulnerability to contracting COVID 19

“It is possible that waste from homes occupied by those in self isolation finds its way to Gweru dumpsites and is later picked by children who play very close to the dumpsites” Rupanga said.

Improper waste location and management pose adverse health effects and as such; government ought to adopt integrated waste management systems with strategic and effective action plans as well as appropriate policy agenda.

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