By Cuthbert Mashoko

Environmental degradation in urban settlements and its outskirts is a cause for concern and a direct product of human activities, as men and women try to prevaricate the harsh economic climate bedeviling the country.

This has seen the environment being made the sacrificial lamb as evidenced by deforestation, illegal mining and dumping as human beings turn to extract the little resources endowed in their surroundings and at the same time dispose residue from their activities.

The high cost of living in urban settlements has intensified urban farming and peri-urban agriculture.  

Mostly it is staple crops that are grown in the quest to achieve food security. The practice, though it has contributed to some form of relief in terms of partly addressing food security, it has led to environmental dilapidation. Most of the land that has fallen prey to urban farming is land deemed unfit for construction by the city fathers, such as wetlands, land along rivers and streams.

Farming activities along the banks of Mucheke and Shagashe rivers in the Ancient City of Masvingo is a case in point. Clearing of the bushes as residents prepare the small fields has been an agent of deforestation. This has facilitated high levels of erosion and siltation into Mucheke river which is one of the chief tributaries of Lake Mutirikwi, the sole source of water for about a 100 000 population.

Subsequently the Lake has been a victim of high levels of siltation, a development which has reduced the water holding capacity of the City of Masvingo’s singular water supplier. More so, the washed away soil from the agricultural fields contains inorganic fertilisers. This has promoted the growth of weeds and algae in Mucheke River and ultimately Lake Mutirikwi. An outcome which threatens the survival of aquatic life.

Equally disturbing is the fact that purification of the water from these sources comes at a huge price for the City Fathers who have no option except transferring the burden to the rate payers through exorbitant water bills.

 Load shedding  and high cost of electricity have also seen their fair share on the environment .Rampant destruction of trees in the outskirts of urban areas as residents resort to firewood as a source of energy has not only fueled deforestation but has led to the depletion of the ozone layer due to carbon emissions.

The Morningside area which is adjacent to Rujeko C in the City is a typical example. The once densely vegetated and bushy area is now a shadow of its self-due to firewood gathering activities which involves cutting down of trees.

The high cost of building material in urban areas has also added to the woes of environmental degradation as urban dwellers turn to the environment to lessen the costs during construction.

This has created a fortune for the illegal quarry, river sand and pit sand suppliers. Massive environmental degradation as witnessed in gullies and the destruction of vegetation as trees are destroyed or left to wilt as their roots are left exposed. These scenes are an environmental eyesore in urban peripheries.

More often the illegal quarry -makers use fire and explosives to break granite rocks, this threatens the survival of living organisms that shelter themselves in rocks. In some cases the fire is left unattended, leading to veld fires.  The area close to Mbudzi in the capital Harare is a typical example of how illegal quarry makers have led to environmental degradation as the granite rocks in the area have been ‘exploited’ for quarry.

Illegal mining activities in urban areas and outskirts have been on the increase as economic hardships take toll in urban areas. Most of the unemployed youth have been absorbed by this illegal trade as they seek to make a living.

 In the mineral rich town of Kwekwe, illegal miners have showed no respect for the Central Business District(CBD), as they have taken their trade to where ever the prospects  of finding the yellow mineral, gold is. This has led to vandalism of roads, water and sewer infrastructure at the heart of the CBD. Destruction of sewer pipes apart from causing land pollution has the potential of sparking the outbreak of water bone diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Globe and Phoenix Primary School located a stone throw from Kwekwe’ CBD is no longer a safe place for pupils to enjoy learning, as trenches run underneath classroom blocks. This put the lives of the learners and teachers at risk.

In Masvingo illegal mining at Target Kopje hills had given residents  of Majange, Hillside and Pangolin sleepless nights, as shockwaves  as a results of the use of explosives by the illegal miners  led to cracks on their houses and caused unbearable noise pollution.

The mining activities in the hills were also risking the life span of Masvingo City Council Water tanks on top of the hills, as the artisan miners were allegedly extracting the mineral underneath the water reservoirs.

The Reservoirs faced collapse at any -time and could also be contaminated with dangerous chemicals such as cyanide used by the miners.  

The collapsing of the Water tanks would cause a catastrophe in form of floods that have the potential of sweeping away thousands of people and destroy homes since the tanks hold millions of cubic meters of water.

Also contaminating the water in tanks could affect thousands of residents from getting poisoned and lose life. Many Thanks  to vibrant  Masvingo United Residents and Rate Payers Alliance(MURRA) and their prolific legal team from Mutendi, Shumba and Associates who were quick to observe the dangers of the mining activities and hauled the miners, city fathers and Ministry of Mines before the high court to stop the activities.

High refuse disposal fees, juxtaposed by poor performing industries has seen captains of industries evading proper refuse disposal methods. This has led to illegal dumping practices. Local water bodies and open land in the urban outskirts have been the major victims. Lake Chivero which is one of the key water suppliers of the capital city Harare has been a victim of dumping as industrial refuse is released in the water body. This has affected aquatic life in the water body and promoted the growth of weeds which threaten the water holding capacity of the lake.

In respect of the above, economic factors have been the major drivers of environmental degradation in urban settlements.

 It is against this background that any efforts to save the environment from further ambush should address the economic challenges which are the forces that have contributed to the environmental squalor.

Creation of formal employment for the youth is key so that they have a justifiable means of earning a living. Local authorities need to charge reasonable refuse disposal fees that are reasonable to industries such that they strike a win-win situation. Furthermore, Environmental Management Agency should engage urban dwellers on programs that promote sustainable use of the environment.

Use of campaigns in this regard can be a vehicle to instill a positive change that will save the environment.

Above all a stable economic atmosphere is a vital cog as it creates alternatives that save the environment from paying the prize.

Cuthbert Mashoko is a Development Practitioner who writes in his capacity.