RAW effluent from a decaying sewer infrastructure in Mutate is seeping into the Sakubva River which flows into Odzi River and Save River while solid waste from uncollected garbage is also finding its way into the vast water bodies in a development that is posing a serious health hazard in Manicaland province.
The contaminated water from Odzi River and Save River feeds into the Indian Ocean.
Lynne James, the Mutare Rivers Rehabilitation Initiative (MRRI) coordinator, confirmed the development in an interview with The NewsHawks this week, warning that the immediate danger lies on a settlement in Mutare called Federation Camp which relies wholly on water from Sakubva River for livelihood.
More danger lurks upstream Sakubva River in Odzi where there is another community that relies on the contaminated water for survival.
There is also the Dora community in the peri-urban area of Mutare that uses water from Sakubva River which is now at risk of an outbreak of diseases due to polluted water.
In a snap survey around Mutare, The NewsHawks observed the emergence of tributaries flowing with raw sewer effluent that directly feeds into Sakubva River.
At St Joseph bridge, there is raw effluent flow leading into Sakubva River, which residents say has been happening for a long time.
Behind the Mutare City Council housing department building, there is a tributary with raw effluent flowing into the Sakubva River as well and the area has been cleared by municipal workers, showing that the local authority is are aware of the menace.
James said the situation is increasingly getting out of hand.
“Sewerage leaks are reported to COM (City of Mutare), some get repaired, some are long standing and remain unattended, flowing straight into our waterways,” James said.
“Mutare has a network of streams that start on the Cecil Kopje mountain north of the town, and most gradually coalesce into the main Sakubva River. At their source, these streams are crystal clear and drinkable, but by the time the Sakubva River leaves Mutare it is 100% polluted.”
She added: “Topography and location of our sewerage/ industrial waste pipes dictates that sewerage leaks will find their way into our rivers, one way or the other. Many sewerage pipes run alongside and/or cross our rivers. These pipes are now old, tired and poorly maintained. Breaks happen frequently. Cracks are everywhere.
“City of Mutare is well aware of the situation and how our rivers are used as sewers. Sadly, to date, they have not engaged our MRRI team to explain their plans to solve the city’s sewerage crisis, despite our repeated approaches. Our team also requested a tour of the Gimboki sewerage works for educational purposes, but we were denied.”
She said Mutare, like other cities, is experiencing rural-urban drift, resulting in a general increase in population but the local authority is failing to address the problem due to misplaced priorities as shown by the ill-advised purchase of top-of-the-range vehicles for the executives instead of funding sewer infrastructure maintenance.
“Our outdated poorly maintained sewerage system is now way overstretched. The frequency of breaks can only be increasing until something changes. Companies also pay COM to dispose of their industrial waste on their behalf, but this too often ends up in our rivers, so you can appreciate that Mutare’s rivers are abused beyond capacity, and are all but dead. This fact is clearly visible; just go and look at the water,” James said.
James said prioritising the sewerage system upgrade ahead of other less urgent budgetary expenses is key in solving the perrenial problem.
“How do we drive executive vehicles when our rivers are sewers? This simply does not make sense. There is need for engagement of all available engineering assistance for this upgrade. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We need what is currently recommended, tried and tested in other cities experiencing the very same issues,” she said.
“We must put stop gap measures in place to minimise pollution whilst this massive project rolls out.”
Contacted for comment, Mutare City Council spokesperson Spren Mutiwi told The NewsHawks that the local authority is very responsive to service delivery concerns channelled through the different communication platforms which it has established to improve and enhance stakeholder engagement.
“In relation to sewer blockages alone from January 2023 to July, we recorded a total of 284 sewer blockages and during the period from August 2023 to September 2023 we recorded 91 sewer blockages which were reported by the residents and 88 were resolved within the stipulated service delivery timeliness and the rest were resolved outside the normal time lines,” Mutiwi said.
“We are a local authority that respects and listens to the concerns of residents and we respond to queries or concerns as they come, hence the allegations of not acting swiftly are totally misdirected and misplaced. In short those are naked lies.”
Mutiwi added that the city has a sewer network which has outlived its lifespan, hence the reason for the increased blockages.
“Adding to that, we have also irresponsible citizens who are putting foreign objects on the sewer network and that has also exacerbated the number of blockages. This translates to increased sewer blockages and at times we are overwhelmed with cases but our technocrats have done extremely well even though,” he said.
“Council is already working on the maintenance of the old sewer infrastructure in Sakubva and other areas but we are behind in terms of clearing the maintenance backlog of the sewer connection.”
Mutiwi added that in terms of solid waste management, the council has a refuse collection schedule which is publicised in residents’ WhatsApp groups.
“City of Mutare is among the few local authorities that are collecting solid waste within the scope of the schedule. All residential areas are serviced once a week, but institutions, industry and commercials are serviced daily,” he said.
“We still have irresponsible citizens who do not practice environmental and friendly practices, who in most cases have a habit of throwing their solid waste along roadside despite the weekly collections. In such cases we do regular roadside heap collections every weekends. Hence in summary City of Mutare has a robust refuse collection program. We are also encouraging our customers, residents and stakeholders to do waste separation and create solid waste as a business venture. This will also reduce the volume of solid waste collected weekly.”
Added Mutiwi: “We are a local authority that takes every customer, residents and stakeholders concerns seriously because we are very mindful that these are critical players in service delivery.”