Zvishavane residents seem ignorant of the health implications of poor waste disposal mechanisms

Kudzai Tamary Chikiwa, Correspondent

AT sunset in Zvishavane’s once affluent Noelvalle suburb, smoke bellowed from a heap of burning garbage, engulfing the entire street with a foul stench.

Children who usually come to the undesignated dumpsites to pick “toys” started coughing as the thick air filtered through their air.
The wind blowing north-eastwards fuelled the flames.

Passers-by covered their noses to avoid inhaling the suffocating smoke, while enraged residents called out those burning the garbage, warning them against “such an illegal act”.

Monkeys and baboons that usually feast from the garbage piles started running away with their young ones tightly clenched to their backs.
Rats and mice made rattling sounds as they fled to people’s yards to seek shelter as the place they called home was in flames.

This has become a weekly occurrence in Noelvalle suburb which was once considered the glory of the mining town.
Residents dump waste along the streets, on driveways and next to houses.

Despite Zvishavane recording cholera-related fatalities in the past months, residents seem ignorant of the health implications of poor waste disposal mechanisms.

At sunset, residents burn waste close to houses with smoke engulfing the air causing pollution.“During our time (before the closure of Shabanie Mine) we had boom gates and people would not randomly trespass into Noelvalle and Chinda Heights suburbs. They called this area kumayard (affluent suburbs) and you would rarely see any litter on the ground.

We used to have a place called Madenda where the responsible authorities would dispose of garbage. Mine workers collected refuse now and then, not this drama we’re now seeing,” said Mrs Rathabelo Nkomo, a former employee of Shabanie Mine who has stayed in the suburb since the 1990s.
Mrs Nkomo bemoaned the closure of the asbestos mine saying it has led to the lowering of standards of the residential areas.

“Long back, this suburb was strictly for Shabanie Mine workers and we were a small community. We knew everyone who stayed on Roland Street, for example, and once we noticed any bad behaviour, we would hold the person accountable. Now, there are a lot of new people renting houses while others purchased them from the mine,” she said.

The situation in Noelvalle suburb mirrors that of most residential areas formerly owned by Shabanie Mine, including Birthday, Advarolem, Nil and Maglas.

Before the closure of the asbestos mine, authorities had a systematic way of collecting refuse since the company was responsible for servicing its houses.

Following the closure of the mine, the company sold most of its houses and eventually withdrew its services as the properties were now regarded as private properties.

Zvishavane Town Council was due to take over the responsibility of servicing these residential areas, a development the local authority said is still in the process of formalising.

While areas such as Eastlea, Forit, Highlands, Makwasha, Mandava and the central business district (CBD) have refuse collectors who do so every week and daily in town, it remains a nightmare for the former Shabanie Mine suburbs.

In an interview, Zvishavane mayor, Councillor Takarangana Keta, said residents should not blame the council as the local authority has not assumed responsibility for the former Shabanie Mine residential areas.

“As a council, we’re on top of our game. Our suburbs are serviced every week and every day in the CBD. The challenge is that these suburbs that were once owned by Shabanie Mine are not yet fully council-owned and serviced. There are procedures to be followed so for now it is not our responsibility,” he said.

Cllr Keta said the council had availed more refuse trucks to improve refuse collection in the mining town.“We’re putting a lot of effort in ensuring that we collect refuse to avoid the spread of diseases and polluting our air and environment,” he said.Walking around Noelvalle suburb, one is welcomed by numerous illegal dumpsites which children have turned into playgrounds.

While some parents see this as somewhat normal that children pick things from the dumpsites, there are health implications involved.A study carried out by the National Institute of Health (NIH) on waste management in Beitbridge recently indicated that dumping of waste in undesignated areas resulted in diseases such as diarrhoea, eye irritation, dry cough, asthma and dyspnoea.

“These diseases have been noted to be associated with vectors that breed in conditions that can be found in waste dumps as well as individuals staying near waste dump sites,” noted the NIH.

Research shows that sites where trash is not collected become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies and animals that carry diseases such as rats.
According to health and environment advocate, Mr Lois Ndemela, waste dumping has negative effects on soil and water.
“Hazardous waste can find its way into streams, rivers, lakes and drinking water which becomes a health hazard for both humans and animals,” he said.

Mr Ndemela said when chemicals seep into the soil, they can cause it to be infertile thereby affecting agriculture.Noelvalle suburb is located close to the Save River where a significant number of people get water amid the current water crisis in the town.Save River is also a source of water for the popular KuMapostori gardens where many residents get their agricultural produce.

Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Midlands provincial spokesperson, Mr Oswald Ndlovu, said dumping waste on any land or water surface, street, road or any site that is not designated as a waste disposal facility is a breach of statutory provisions as spelled out under Section 23 of Statutory Instrument 6 of 2007 (Effluent and solid waste disposal regulations).

“As EMA, we would like to encourage residents to desist from dumping waste at undesignated sites as they risk being prosecuted. They should separate waste at source and recover materials such as plastic bottles, cans and cardboard that they can sell to recycling companies,” he said.
Biodegradable waste such as food leftovers should be composted, Mr Ndlovu noted.

He said EMA is seized with the issue of littering along road servitudes and “we would like to encourage public transport operators to put in place sufficient bins in their vehicles for use by passengers.”Turning to waste fires, Mr Ndlovu said these have far-reaching implications on both the environment and people.

In its recent public enlightenment article, EMA highlighted that today’s trash contains a lot of plastics and paper treated with chemicals, coatings and ink.“The burning of such releases toxic chemicals and produces many pollutants, including carbon monoxide, particle pollution, ash, and dioxins (a group of highly toxic chlorinated organic chemicals which are produced primarily as a result of human activity) thus presenting dangerous health conditions that can be caused by inhaling or ingesting small amounts of these pollutants,” noted the agency.

Young children and the elderly are at great risk of being affected.“Composting all biodegradable waste and recycling products are ways of avoiding illegal waste dumping and burning.”Biodegradable waste includes any organic matter in waste that can be broken down into carbon dioxide, water, methane, compost, humus and simple organic molecules by micro-organisms.

According to research by the Environmental Organisation of Southern Africa, there are a total of 339 000 premature deaths per year that could be ascribed to vulnerability to waste fire smoke through the increased risk of diseases related to the respiratory system such as hypertension and asthma.

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