8 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Lax Security At Waterworks Threatens Public Health

THE lives of Harare residents are at risk as there is little security at Morton Jaffray Water Works where people easily sneak in to steal water treatment chemicals.

Morton Jaffray Water Works pumps water to the city's surbubs. This came out during an inspection-in-loco at the waterworks by the Harare Magistrates Courts yesterday in a case in which sodium cyanide was delivered to the water treatment plant last year.

The perimeter fence is destroyed, granting easy access to those who might want to be mischievous.

Simon Demhe, a truck driver at Astra Transport in Bulawayo, his manager Farai Muchenje, Appronalise Mupakaviri of CureChem and Tiki Tarwirei, a clearing agent, are accused of contravening sections of the Water Act and the Environmental Management Act.

A City of Harare employee based at the waterworks, Mr Dickens Munyoro, who is also a State witness, said while giving evidence at the site that there were no guards at the final distribution channel room.

He said it was possible for anyone to sneak into the water treatment plant.

"I say so because a number of thefts have occurred with people stealing some of the chemicals used for water treatment," said Mr Munyoro.

He said the security system was so lax that it was possible for drivers to sneak in wrong consignments.

"The driver is left alone at the gate when samples are taken to the laboratory to determine the nature of the chemicals they would be carrying.

"A mischievous driver can take advantage of that to hide dangerous chemicals that will not be detected by the authorities."

Responding to questions from prosecutor Mr Michael Reza, Mr Munyoro said it was impossible to detect any poison if someone was to sneak into the final distribution room and administer it into the water.

He said had the sodium cyanide delivered to the treatment plant been administered in the final distribution channel room, it would have ended up being consumed by residents.

This is because there are no further tests carried out once the water leaves the distribution room.

Mr Munyoro said windows to the distribution room were broken over 20 years ago due to chemicals used to treat the water and were not repaired.

Investigating officer Chief Superintendent Crispen Makedenge told the court during the inspection-in-loco that the security system at the waterworks was lax.

He said security personnel cover only the front part of the plant, leaving the final distribution channel room exposed.

Chief Supt Makedenge said the only security at the last distribution channel room was a single door which is locked at night, but the windows surrounding the room were broken.

"Your Worship, as you can see, the final channels which pump water for human consumption are completely uncovered by security.

"The perimeter fence is cut and the glass at the french door housing the final distribution channel room is broken with a hole huge enough to allow an adult to enter through it."

On Wednesday, Chief Supt Makedenge told the court that Demhe, who had an expired hazardous chemicals handling licence, drove the truck from Beira fully aware that he was carrying sodium cyanide.

Chief Supt Makedenge said when Demhe arrived at their offices in Harare, Muchenje placed a proof of delivery note indicating aluminium sulphate on top of papers indicating sodium cyanide.

"It is a legal requirement that sodium cyanide must be escorted by EMA officials to final destination, but Demhe connived with Tarwirei and avoided going to EMA offices at Forbes Border Post.

"Demhe was able to get into Morton Jaffray because of the papers he had indicating he was carrying aluminium sulphate."

Chief Supt Makedenge said there was a specific City of Harare employee who was supposed to receive the consignment on July 20.

"On that night, unknown people were supposed to sneak into Morton Jaffray and pour the sodium cyanide into the treated water, but the plan failed to work because on that night the superintendent ordered the staff to clean the water tanks and not to accept any chemicals," he said.

"Demhe was parked at the Morton Jaffray for four days and the specific person who was to receive the consignment had gone off duty."

Supt Makedenge told the court that when the superintendent gave the employees a go-ahead to receive chemicals that is when they opened the truck and and discovered that Demhe was carrying sodium cyanide.

They then alerted their bosses.

Lawyer Mr Nicholas Chikomo, who is representing Demhe, Muchenje, Mupakaviri and Tarwirei, made an application for discharge at the close of the State case, arguing that his clients had no case to answer.

He is expected to submit written submissions on February 12, with Mr Reza responding on February 15.

Magistrate Mr Hosiah Mujaya will pass the ruling on February 20.

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