A researcher with the University of Zimbabwe’s department of biological sciences, Maxwell Barson said the city faces a major cancer outbreak if its residents are not prevented from eating heavily contaminated fish from water bodies surrounding the city.
He said Lake Chivero, Manyame and other water bodies around the city were heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants, including chemical and heavy metals that cause cancer. Findings of an earlier study produced in African Journal of Aquatic Science recently, indicated that levels of metal contamination were too high.
It said levels of zinc, iron, copper, nickel and lead in fish from Manyame, Mukuvisi and Gwebi rivers were unusually high, with zinc and iron concentrations being the highest in sharptooth catfish.
“The results of this study may have significant negative implications for aquatic organisms and human health through the consumption of fish and therefore risk assessment investigations are imperative,” noted the study carried out last year.
Harare City Council was recently fined US$15 000 by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) for discharging raw sewage into the environment. Experts said the fine was too little to deter the local authority from doing it again.
Another study by the Department of Biological Science at the University of Zimbabwe, with chilling accuracy, accurately predicted the 2008 cholera epidemic and the latest typhoid outbreak and has painted a bleak future for the city, with the blame squarely on pollution at water sources.
The areas most affected by the typhoid outbreak, Whitecliff, Dzivaresekwa and Kuwadzana, are again most at risk of future disease outbreaks and the predicted cancer.
City of Harare has so far blamed the typhoid outbreak on the sale of fish. The council said it was embarking on a drive to alert vendors and fish mongers on the need for hygiene.
Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda’s phone went unanswered, when sought for comment yesterday.
Barson said Harare water was not 100% safe to drink as it contains substances that should not be there. He said at times, algae and brown sediments, are found in tap water.
“Harare water is not 100% safe to drink that is why people are encouraged to boil it or use water tablets,” he said. “At times you see algae and sediments and if it is like that it is not safe.”
The University of Zimbabwe researcher said all major rivers feeding into Lake Chivero were contaminated and the City of Harare had no capacity to purify water for drinking purposes. “At times the water has sediments and heavy metals because the treatment is not up to scratch,” said Barson. “The sewage treatment capacity is way below the population carrying capacity so there is urgent need to increase the treatment capacity.”
Another recent research by the University of Zimbabwe and supported by WHO and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare concluded that water quality from all water sources and major rivers was poor as there was the presence of at least one microbial and parasitic micro-organisms.
It says groundwater sources, springs and wells, which are mostly used for domestic purposes, posed greater health risk as most of the microbial pathogens and parasites were identified in them.
Govt urged to act swiftly
Barson urged government to take immediate measures to stop the continued pollution of Harare’s water bodies adding that failure to do so would cause an environmental disaster.
“Health authorities should confiscate all fresh fish being sold in the open and ensure all those fisheries at the lake to invest in proper preservation equipment such as freezers and sanitary facilities, including boats, fishing gear and safety clothing for personnel,” Barson advised.
Barson’s warning comes at a time some suburbs in Harare’s such as Kuwadzana, Whitecliff, Warren Park, Kuwadzana and Dzivaresekwa are experiencing an outbreak of typhoid blamed on the consumption of fish and drinking water from shallow boreholes and wells.
He said polluters continued to contaminate the environment in the country because the penalties were not prohibitive enough.
Some companies, said the researcher, set aside a budget for fines once they are caught polluting the environment.
Municipalities to blame for pollution: researchers
Researchers on the fish and the city’s water quality said Harare and Chitungwiza municipalities were to blame for the high level of pollution of the water sources, saying if left unchecked this could have an adverse effect on the health of thousands.
Among the bacteria found was e.coli, which is normally found in human waste meaning the water was not suitable for human consumption.
“The bacterium attracts flies to the fish, which are then sold to people thereby causing an outbreak in typhoid,” Barson said.