The question of river pollution in the country’s towns and cities has been debated for many years now.
A lot of people have given their views with regard to the situation and the blame has always been squared on the doorstep of the Department of Environmental Affairs who are the enforcers of the Environmental Management Act.
Rivers such as Naperi, Mudi and Likhubula in Blantyre, Likangala and Mponda in Zomba, Lilongwe and Bwaila in Lilongwe and Lunyangwa in Mzuzu have been subject edto pollution of various kinds requiring urgent intervention from authorities.
While residents push the blame to city fathers for not providing alternatives for waste disposal and meting severe forms of punishment to industries that defy set guidelines, city authorities point an accusing finger at residents for not honouring their obligation to pay city rates.
But in the midst of the finger pointing, Jimmy Kawaye, a hardware vendor at Tsokankanasi market right on the banks of the heavily polluted Lilongwe River, says the issue is not getting the attention it deserves.
“Taking into consideration what is happening here in Lilongwe, it is obvious that the council needs to do its homework to ensure that rivers return to what they used to be in the 1980s and early 1990s. When the council allowed a fully-fledged market to be stationed on the banks of the river they should have anticipated that they are risking the river to pollution,” he says.
Lilongwe River is choked by effluent from abattoirs, garbage from the market upstream with shoes and sack sellers who use the river to wash their merchandise downstream.
An environmental health expert based at the Polytechnic in Blantyre, Save Kumwenda, called for the harmonisation of policies on pollution and the control of water resources.
“The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Environmental Affairs Department and the city councils should devise a way of how they can work together to save water resources in form of rivers across the country,” he says.
Kumwenda says pollution of rivers leads to death of aquatic life and disturbs the food chain in the ecosystem.
He explains that this might also prevent people from using the water for domestic purposes or else put people at greater risk of waterborne diseases and poisoning, unbearable smell making the environment unattractive to tourists.
The situation is not any different in Blantyre where for years some industries have been accused of depositing their waste into the city’s rivers in contravention to the set guidelines by the Government of Malawi when it comes to the protection of water resources.
Gertrude Mazira, a resident of Chirimba township in Blanytre suggested that tough punishments should be meted out on all violators of law regardless of status in society.
“The problem is that there is always selective justice when it comes to punishing those that pollute our rivers. They always pick at those that are weak leaving the rich unaccountable. If one only has to look at the extent of pollution, it is quite obvious that the industries are the biggest culprits. Yet they are treated with kid gloves because they have the financial muscle. There must be fairness in all this,” she says.
While the country’s legislation such as the Water Resources Act and the Environmental Management Act have been put to question regarding their effectiveness, Jalale Mkandawire from Mzuzu blames authorities for not doing enough to utilize the pieces of legislation that the country has.
“To me the law is just alright. What I see as the problem is failure by the ministries of Local Government and that of Agriculture and Water Development including the Department of Environmental Affairs to put up structures and measures of implementing the law. Where have we seen inspectors of these entities monitoring our rivers let alone staff to take care of the same? It is a question of investment,” he says.
Mkandawire’s sentiments are corroborated by Kumwenda who highlights the instruments that the country has to fight water pollution.
“The country has made commitment to control pollution in rivers through
several policies including the water policy, environmental policy,
sanitation policy and city bye-laws. The only problem is implementing
what is stated in the policies and this is mainly due to funding
issues, lack of equipment for monitoring and human resources,” he says.
In the recent months, some city councils including Blantyre and Lilongwe have been unveiling plans to revive their urban city development plans and the water sector is one of the areas that residents want councils to look at as a matter of urgency.
Mazira, the Blantyre resident says it is time for city councils to put aside resources for the protection of water resources in the respective cities.
The Polytechnic lecturer, Kumwenda, adds that
there is need to have a detailed database of industries and their
pollution prevention plans in the country adding that
industries should not be allowed to operate unless their waste management plan is approved and should be subject to periodic monitoring.
At the end of it all Kumwenda says the ‘polluter pays principle’ need to be enforced as stipulated in the environmental management act where any offender is obliged to pay for the damage caused to the environment.