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Harare’s ticking environmental time bomb

Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, is in a deplorable environmental state and the solution is to stop all development to avoid fuelling a life-threatening crisis, an official within council has said.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

An unfavourable stench emanating from an array of careless, largely economic activity, comprises part of the chaotic ecological realities that one faces, especially as they approach the city centre.

Both tap and borehole water is reportedly contaminated, notwithstanding its insufficiency for the ballooning population, while vegetation is fast disappearing and sanitation has seemingly ceased to be a right, judging from rampant open defecation.

Harare City Council’s chief environmental officer Charles Mabika said if he had the “power”, all new construction would be put on hold to give a chance for the local authority to refurbish its service standards within the urban settlement.

“I would not allow any development to take place in Harare until such a time we put something on a rehabilitation system to revamp our water system, waste water system and even the solid waste because we must make sure we have a proper place to dump our waste,” he told stakeholders at the Climate Change Policy Advocacy and Lobby (ClimPAL) Programme COP 23 feedback meeting recently.

However, the opposite has become the order of the day in the expanding city where construction projects are emerging even on protected wetlands.

According to Mabika, who last year attended COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, the disregard for the city’s clean environment targets is “mainly because of the political interference” emanating from different affiliations among leaders in the local authority and government.

“There must be a proper coordination between or among the local authorities, civil society and even the private actors,” he suggested.

Last month, the government reversed the city’s rushed ban of mini-buses to enter the CBD although Council claimed that it was a move to solve the traffic menace in the streets, which has become a virtual death trap for residents.

Apart from that, the ban was premised on Harare’s effort to significantly contribute to the country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) commitment by reviewing the transport system in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using transport with large carrying capacity.

But, that plan has ostensibly flopped under the perceived political circumstances.

“We have got the problem of smog, we have kombis all over, the situation is chaotic, but we are trying to bring sanity, which cannot come overnight,” acknowledges Mabika.
With reality pointing to the opposite direction, the council’s ambitious goal of world-class city status by 2025 might be a pipe dream.

Sustainability scientist and environmentalist Macdonald Mamina said more than just talk needs to be done to avert the situation.

“A lot of energy is required to change things. The major problem is these things are being swept under the carpet,” he said.

Mamina, who recently jogged from his residential home to the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) offices to submit a petition over unrestrained burning of waste, said there was need to enforce stern environmental laws.

“They [authorities] are extremely reluctant to go on the ground and arrest people who dump and burn waste, therefore they have given everyone the licence to burn,” said Mamina.

Archiford Chemhere, a representative for Action 24, a youth initiative focusing on proffering climate change and environmental solutions, shared the same sentiments.
“There is a way out, which is if we properly implement our environmental policies,” said Chemhere.

Meanwhile, given the chance, Mabika said the city was willing to fix the impending environmental crisis by reducing pollution and turning to environmentally-friendly technologies.

“We are looking at having about 150 electric buses in the city and as I am speaking now, we are almost there. I am glad it is starting to make sense from the corporate side going down, meaning it will be very easy for us to implement that,” Mabika said, adding it would not be a stroll in the park.

The capital city reportedly has 195 streets and 64 intersections that are solar-powered showing clear will to shift towards green energy.

If left unrestrained the current environmental chaos poses a great threat on natural resources which are seriously depleting with no apparent solution in sight as is the case of water.

“The plan for [Harare City] water by 2025 is discouraging any development on a wetland,” revealed Mabika.

This means that the insufficient dirty water available in the city, if left uncontrolled, is at risk of further diminishing to the extent of drying up a few years from now as is the looming situation in neighbouring South Africa’s Cape Town city.

While blame can largely be put on the powers-that-be, it is also the mandate of citizens in the city to aim towards safeguarding the environment and adopting sustainable ways of living, which incorporate mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

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