Local authorities are major polluters of ground and surface water, reports the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), a statutory body tasked with ensuring sustainable use and protection of Zimbabwe’s environmental goods and services.
At the same time, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu has warned mines and firms against violating environmental laws and regulations and urged EMA to take action against offenders.
The pollution of water bodies by local authorities is a perennial problem, but EMA rarely takes punitive action, and even when it does, the penalties are not deterrent.
Water quality monitoring shows high phosphate levels in rivers passing through cities and towns, while 21 percent of sewage treatment plants in 32 local authorities are non-operational, allowing more pollution to enter rivers and streams
In 2016, EMA fined Harare City Council $10 000 for polluting the environment and compromising public health and a year later, Chitungwiza Municipality was fined $1 000 for discharging raw sewage close to a residential area.
Many note that the punitive action against the two local authorities has not deterred them as they have become repeat offenders.
Instead of continuously collecting negligible fines from Harare, Chitungwiza and other councils, EMA should start looking at what action to prefer against city managers in the event of repeated contravention of environmental laws, environmentalists feel.
For example, the agency could lobby the Government to dismiss any council that recklessly and repeatedly pollutes the environment.
If private or public corporate organisations were found to be repeat offenders, EMA could also lobby the relevant Government arms to revoke their operating licences.
There is a feeling that EMA has not broadened its scope of operations to target other industries that are notorious for pollution.
It is no secret that mining activities along the Great Dyke and other areas rich in mineral deposits — particularly gold — have been contributing to the pollution of river systems, threatening the lives of people, animals and plants.
Two of the country’s seven major river systems, Sanyati and Mazowe, are at risk of major pollution as significant amounts of mercury mainly from small-scale gold mining activities in their catchment areas are finding their way downstream, exposing humans and animals to ingestion-related mercury poisoning through water and fish consumption.
We have not seen EMA descending on the mining sector to establish whether companies and prospectors are taking into account, the environmental sensitivity of flora and fauna, acidic drainage management, surface and ground water quality, mining rehabilitation and volumes and types of waste to be stored.
Government enacted the Environmental Management Act which requires that environmental impact assessments are mandatory with certain development.
While it is an offence in terms of Zimbabwe’s EIA policy of 1997 to carry out mining without an impact assessment, the EMA is adequately capacitated to monitor all mining activities in the country, both legal and illegal.
The onus is on the parent Ministry of Environment to ensure that EMA is adequately resourced in terms of funding and personnel so that its spreads its supervisory tentacles to all sectors or industries that are capable of polluting the environment.
EMA is a hybrid organisation, combining all the Government agencies responsible for managing natural resources.
The former Department of Natural Resources was in January 2007 merged with the Water Pollution Control Unit of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, the Air Pollution Control Unit and the Hazardous Substances Control Unit, both of the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
As the new integrated organisation in charge of protecting the environment, EMA should also look at addressing other issues that are of concern on a global scale.
These include the effective management of wetlands and the reduction of carbon emissions from factory plants and vehicles.
In line with one of its core values, EMA should respond timeously to all environmental queries and complaints regardless of magnitude or scale and should engage key stakeholders in the execution of its mandate.
The stakeholders include industrialists, farmers, NGOs, miners, government departments, parastatals, traditional leaders, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, schoolchildren and all other citizens.
With the United Nations now placing emphasis on the creation of green economies, EMA should play a leading role in encouraging the Government to adopt the desired development model.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme of 2010, a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
It is an economic development model that uses everyday methods to help save the world and its environment with its main sectors being renewable energy, clean transport, water management and sustainable agriculture.
On a positive note, EMA has embarked on highly successful awareness campaigns where it has managed to educate a lot of people on the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy environment.
Going forward, EMA should continue to give advice and guidelines to policy makers on going green so that the country’s various development entities are sensitive to the environment.