Mbare is a suburb of contrasts.Giant colourful murals brighten the walls of dilapidated apartment blocks that house thousands of people in conditions that can only be described as unacceptable in the 21st century.
Amid the filth of uncollected garbage, young children play street football as they seek to emulate scores of soccer greats who have emerged from Mbare.
As smoke pollutes the air, dozens of young Zim dancehall singers clear their throats and record the songs that rock the country’s airwaves. People go about their business, resigned to the reality of flowing sewage, choking smoke and piles of waste.
Now the City of Harare is trying to make the most of the situation, tapping into sustainable technologies to definitively deal with the problem of waste in Mbare.
The city council is working on a biogas digester that will see all decomposable garbage being channelled to the plant.
The council’s Engineer Calvin Chigariro says there are other plans to holistically manage solid waste not just in Mbare, but around the whole city in general.
“After the biogas plant at Mbare, there will also be screening of solid material from sewer and we will set up waste separators,” Eng Chigariro says.
Such interventions cannot come soon enough for the people of Mbare, with one resident recently remarking to The Sunday Mail Society: “It is obvious that the way we are living here is risky, especially for children. If there is an outbreak here, it will not be easy to contain. We will all die.”
Busan Mapfumo, who lives at the Matererini flats in Mbare adds, “The smell from burst sewers and burning garbage is now our daily bread. Our children are now used to flowing sewage and acrid smoke, it has become part of our everyday living.”
In its “Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment” report, the World Health Organisation says globally, about 25 percent of deaths of children younger than five are caused by unhealthy and/or polluted environments.
The report adds that polluted environments can lead to fatal cases of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia, which kill about 1,7 million children a year.
The United Nations health agency say that the most common causes of these deaths are preventable.
“A polluted environment is a deadly one, particularly for young children,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in the report. Children’s developing organs and immune systems and smaller bodies and airways, make them vulnerable to dirty air and water.”
Health experts say children face higher health risks from air pollution than adults, because children breathe twice as quickly, taking in more air in relation to their body weight, while their vital organs like the brain and immune systems are still developing and vulnerable.
Many residents of Mbare dump rubbish in open spaces because the city council rarely collects waste.
The residents burn the waste when the mounds get too big, and this causes air pollution.
Other pollution sources include construction dust and the smoke from wood and paraffin used for cooking and lighting in one of Harare’s poorest suburbs.
“We hardly have running water in this area. Our taps are always dry and water is supplied twice a week. When supplies are restored, the sewer is overwhelmed and in most cases it bursts,” complains Busan Mapfumo