Monday, March 27, 2023

Environmental arteries poisoned, choked: reality of local rivers

Courage Dutiro

As the country joined other African countries in commemorating Africa Environment Day, the plight of environmental arteries which are rivers and streams that meander through both urban and rural areas has become increasingly worrying.
Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Nqobizita Mangaliso Ndhlovu in his speech commemorating Africa Environment Day said the day was set aside in recognition of environmental challenges that the continent is facing and the need to bring nature-based solutions to the challenges.
“The day was designated in 2002, on recognition of the numerous environmental challenges confronting the African continent and the need to establish lasting, innovative nature-based solutions to these challenges,” read the statement.
As rivers meander and cascade from the source to the mouth, they provide life to biodiversity and ecosystems during the process.
Rivers and their tributaries are the arteries and veins of the environment, lifeblood and the cradle of human civilization.
Communities, plants and animals that live in and along rivers depend on them for a living, they are a critical component of the ecosystem.
The continuous suffocation of rivers through unsustainable human activities pose threat to the ecosystems.
Siltation of the great Save River that winds its way from the South-Western part of Marondera to Mahenye is a sign that the environmental arteries are under the strain.
Save River Restoration Trust project coordinator Joseph Mutsvaidzwa said people are suffering from a huge burden of the siltation of Save River.
“Save River on its 400km stretch from Wedza to Mahenye as a perennial river was home to many amphibians, wildlife and a source of livelihood for surrounding communities.
“People are facing deadly effects of climate change and siltation of Save River,” said Mutsvaidzwa.
About 20 km up from the iconic Birchenough Bridge, Save swallows Odzi River which pushes brownish water allegedly polluted by Chinese mining activities in Chiadzwa Diamond fields 15 km up from the confluence.
Matsvaidzwa said in conserving the river, Save Restoration Trust members are planting trees to restore forests lost due to unsustainable wood harvesting along the river.
“Lower Save East and West Members are planting trees in their individual capacities until resources become available for other programmes,” Matsvaidzwa said.
On September 7, 2021, Chiredzi West Member of Parliament Farai Musikavanhu raised a motion in parliament asking the August house to set aside a day that can be dubbed ‘Anti-siltation’ day.
“I rise on a point of national interest, having noted that as a nation we need to set aside an anti-siltation day. Our water bodies are choking up at an alarming rate of siltation. In view of climate change our food security as a nation is progressively going to be underpinned by irrigation,” read part of the September 7 2021 Hansard.
Anti-siltation day will help in sensitizing members of the public and policymakers on the importance of rivers, dams and waterways in both urban and rural areas.
Rivers that meander through urban areas are not spared as they are being choked with pollutants from residential, industrial, and farming areas and also from other effects of land degradation.
Minister for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Masvingo Province Ezra Chadzamira in October 2022 during the Global Environment Fund (Gef-7) launch in Masvingo said about 130 kilometres of rivers are affected by stream bank cultivation.
“Human activities such as illegal mining, wetlands cultivation, stream bank cultivation, deforestation and invasive alien species are largely to blame for land degradation in the province.
“Assessments in the province reveal that approximately 131.6 kilometres are affected by stream bank cultivation and 716 hectares under wetland cultivation,” he said.
As if that is enough rivers are also facing another challenge from alien plant species such as the water hyacinth.
Mucheke river in Masvingo Urban is among some of the rivers that are being choked by the results of both unsustainable human activities and alien plant species.
In 2022 Masvingo City Council acknowledged the discharge of raw sewerage into Mucheke and Shagashe rivers which coincidentally met with the death of various amphibians and other Marine life in the rivers.
The global SDG 6 targets to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
Following the discharge Masvingo Provincial Environmental Management Agency (EMA) issued a statement encouraging people to live in hygienic environments.
“Let us all uphold our rights to live in a clean, safe and healthy environment,” read the party of the statement.
Masvingo City Council statement on pollution of Mucheke River
However, 3 weeks after releasing the statement EMA fined Masvingo city council and a beverage manufacturing company (Delta beverages) for polluting the rivers.
Mucheke is a tributary of Shagashe River which feeds into Lake Mutirikwi the sole source of water for Masvingo urban residents.
The pollution of rivers and water is also worsened by the disruption of Wetlands by also unsustainable human activities.
During the year 2022, Bikita Residents association (BIRRA) was up in arms with Bikita Rural District Council for allocating commercial stands at Wetlands in the District.
It was reported that Bikita RDC was allegedly allocating stands in a wetland at Mushanduri Business centre as well as at Makuvaza Business centre.
In some cases, wetlands are the sources/headwater of rivers and streams in the country, if disturbed the health of rivers and streams deteriorate.
The fate of Save and Mucheke river is a reflection of what is happening in many rivers that meander around the country.

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