7 June 2014

Zimbabwe: 'Water Pollution - Fines Not Deterrent Enough'

Residents of Harare have complained about massive pollution of the city's main water sources. The quality of the water has been blamed for a surge in water-borne diseases and cancers. Industry has been blamed for discharging raw waste into the water system. Our Municipal Reporter Innocent Ruwende (IR) speaks to the director of Harare Water Engineer Christopher Zvobgo (CZ) on the problem of pollution and efforts to improve water quality.

IR: Could you please update our readers on the current water situation in Harare? How far has the rehabilitation of Morton Jaffray Waterworks gone?

CZ: The main treatment plant, Morton Jaffray, is operating on average at 70 percent due to some treatment and pumping units that have been decommissioned to allow for installation of new equipment under the two facilities currently running.

Work is ongoing under the Zimbabwe Multi-Donor Trust Fund (Zimfund) and the China EximBank loan facility. Work is in progress with the Zimfund facility. That work is expected to be commissioned by September 2014, while works under the China EximBank loan facility will be completed by December 2015.

Water supply improvements are expected in August 2014 when the first consignment of pumps is expected under the Zimfund facility. By March 2015, the city expects to have all the 14 clear water pumps and 10 pumps at Warren Control replaced with new ones.

This will then bring the treatment and pumping capacity to optimal levels translating to improvements in water supply service levels in Harare.

IR: Why did it take long for council to complain about water pollution? Was it because the council was un- aware or that it did not care?

CZ: Council has always been aware of the water pollution challenges in the catchment. Council has a trade waste inspectorate which monitors industrial discharges into sewers and the environment. About 1 500 companies are registered on the council database and these are monitored and fines and charges are raised for non-compliance of their waste.

There has also been an increase in the number of informal businesses that are not registered with the City of Harare, and their processes also lead to pollution.

The legal framework needs to be tightened to allow for prosecution of offenders and should be uniformly applied across all local authorities in Zimbabwe.

IR: Other than crying to Government, what efforts have been made by council to curb pollution by companies?

CZ: We have engaged the business community with regards to construction of pre-treatment facilities at their premises before the effluent is discharged into sewers or the environment. Some companies have responded positively and constructed facilities which are regularly monitored by the city, while others have simply not responded.

This is where we need tight legislation to allow for prosecution of offenders.

IR: What happened to the polluter pays principle? What action has been taken to ensure those responsible for polluting water sources pay for the cleaning of the water sources?

CZ: This is in force but the fines are not deterrent. There is need to increase the fines so that they are deterrent and can force businesses to adopt cleaner production methods.

Admittedly, council has contributed in a major way to pollution of the water sources due to its failing wastewater management infrastructure.

Council is, however, in the process of refurbishing its treatment works with 70 percent of capacity having been restored at the Firle sewage treatment works.

Other works at Firle and Crowborough are on course under the Zimfund and China Exim- Bank facilities. The city has also carried out major sewer pipe replacement and upgrading to reduce sewer blockages and overflows.

The city targets to replace and upgrade all stream crossings along the outfall sewers.

IR: Council is also guilty of the same crime - polluting water sources. What plans are in place to ensure Harare keeps its water sources clean?

CZ: The city is playing its part in rectifying its infrastructure. It is imperative that business also plays its part so that the sewerage infrastructure can be protected and its life prolonged. Both the city and business should adopt good business practices.

The city has been penalised by EMA on various occasions when part of the problem has been these industries that discharge effluent into the city's sewers.

IR: Harare has mooted generation of electricity from sludge at Firle Sewer Treatment Plant. How far have you gone with the project?

CZ: The project for electricity generation at Firle is on course with the installation of grit removal system and the rehabilitation of digesters in progress. This project will produce about 4MW of power per day.

It will also lead to reduced air pollution as the methane gas produced will be used to generate power rather than being discharged into the atmosphere. The city will use the power to run the Firle sewage works.

IR: Harare Water is expected to get US$250 million towards construction of wastewater treatment plants. How will the money be used and what are the priority areas?

CZ: The money is expected to be used in the upgrading of the current wastewater treatment plants and the construction of new ones. After complete refurbishment, the wastewater treatment plants in Harare will have a capacity of 220 megalitres per day. The city expects to increase this by 110ML/day to 330ML/day with construction of new treatment plants.

The priority will be the upgrading of Crowborough, construction of new treatment plants in the southern areas around Hopley Farm and Lyndhurst Farm to cover Mabvuku, Tafara and Ruwa.

Part of the funds will be committed to replacement and upgrading of sewers in Harare.

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