HomeOpinion & AnalysisNew year, same environmental challenges

New year, same environmental challenges

The year 2017 starts with the country battling with environmental problems of 2016, with some dating long before that. Unlike previous years, where it’s been mostly talk by the responsible authorities and less actual action to make things right, it is hoped 2017 will instil in them the willpower to talk less and act more.

environment By Chipo Masara

Women carrying buckets of water are now a common sight in high-density suburbs
Women carrying buckets of water are now a common sight in high-density suburbs

The year has started with yet another typhoid outbreak scare, which has so far claimed two lives.

Years of general unhygienic conditions in the country — mostly in the highly populated high-density suburbs — has seen typhoid, considered an ancient “medieval” disease that every country should have gotten rid of by now, continually rearing its ugly head and claiming lives. It would seem the country did not learn any lessons from the 2008/2009 cholera outbreak as the same conditions that resulted in that crisis that claimed thousands of lives still exist, and seem to have deteriorated even further in some areas.

By now, it is clear for everyone to see that clean up exercises alone will not end the country’s litter problems. What is needed is something more than corporates going on two-hour cleaning exercises meant to boost their companies’ images. As has been observed, by end of day, the cleaned up areas would again be an eyesore. What is needed is a holistic approach in the form of aggressive awareness campaigns meant not to clean up per se, but to do more by changing people’s mind-sets with regards to littering — making everyone understand how important a clean environment is to each and every one. The Zimbabwe Republic Police can also make being on the lookout for litter bugs a top priority.

But we cannot run away from the fact that as long as the local authorities choose to continue ignoring waste management and treating it like a non-issue, diseases such as cholera and typhoid will continue to haunt the country unnecessarily.

Even more worrying is the erratic water supply in most parts of urban Zimbabwe. As much as people may want to maintain clean environs and chase off the mentioned diseases, it has proved difficult without a reliable supply of water. In some areas, people have gone for years without supply of municipal water, prompting them to search high and low for the precious liquid. When they do finally find it, most have learnt to use it sparingly — in the process compromising on hygiene.

There is definite need for the responsible authorities to invest in ensuring a steady supply of water to everyone. Add to that, it is about time efforts were made to clean the pathogen-infested tap water. I was shocked to hear Harare City Council’s epidemiologist, Kudzai Masunda declaring Harare municipal water safe to drink on national radio on Wednesday morning as he warned of the typhoid outbreak. It’s hard to believe that the water, which at times even smells like raw sewage, is clean and safe for drinking.

The climate change scourge on the other hand, continues to be a major threat. While the country has been receiving almost normal rainfall for the past month or so — bringing smiles on many people’s faces — it does not in any way mean things have normalised. Climate change is a reality that the country needs to continually prepare for. For instance, the country can majorly invest in water harvesting, ensuring that not a single drop of the rainfall received is allowed to go to waste as the country will need it during drier times that will surely come.

Wetland destruction is another problem the country carries into 2017. Late in 2016, yet another wetland area — this time in the form of the Cleveland Dam catchment area which was declared a Rasmar site — was being cleared for construction by some dodgy construction company believed to be politically-linked. As last year came to a close, some representatives from Environment Africa and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), among others, went and planted some trees at the site to send a clear message to the culprits that it is a protected area on which no construction of any sort should be taking place. It still remains to be seen how their message was received. One thing for sure, they have their work cut out for them.

The question of the economy versus ecology continues to be a thorny issue going into the new year as many continue to question if it is okay to destroy the environment for the sake of growing the economy. With many environmentally-unfriendly projects cropping up, there has also been questions about the basis on which the EMA-issued environmental impact assessments certificates — that should only be given when there is assurance the proposed projects do not in any way adversely affect the environment — are being obtained.

As we wait to see what the New Year has in store for us, it is hoped the responsible authorities will hasten to get to work so that come 2018, we will have a happier tale to tell of 2017.

For feedback, email cmasara@standard.co.zw

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