By DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
WOULD you eat vegetables that came from gardens surrounding sewerage ponds? The imagery isnâ€™t appealing.
Despite knowing that the water from sewerage ponds, once treated, may be cleaner than what comes out of most faucets, many people are disgusted by the idea.
But in places like Lusakaâ€™s Garden and Kaunda Square townships, vegetables grown from sewerage ponds using the untreated water are being sold.
As population growth strains land availability in Lusaka, the protected area around sewerage ponds in Garden township has been turned into residential plots and vegetable gardens.
According to international guidelines, any human activities should take place 500 metres away from the ponds. But for the Garden sewer pond in Lusaka, the situation is different; the activities such as housing, gardening and car washing are taking place within the 500 metres range.
Mubanga Chewe, 25, a resident of Garden township, makes a living through selling vegetables grown from his gardens surrounding the Garden Sewerage ponds in Lusaka just less than 100 metres away.
â€œI came from Ndola because I needed to do something that could put food on my table. I have a cousin here in Garden and when I came to Lusaka, I managed to buy seedlings and started a small vegetable garden around the ponds. I use the money I get from the sale of vegetables, to contribute towards the upkeep at my cousinâ€™s home and buying certain basic necessities that I need,â€ Mr Chewe says.
â€œI also use the money to buy washing detergents for the car wash that we co-founded with Mulenga Chama, a colleague of mine,â€ Mr Chewe added.
But besides being beneficial to Mr Chewe, the area surrounding the ponds has been taken for plots and is home to hundreds of families who have built houses within the 500 metres range surrounding the sewerage ponds in Garden Township. But surprisingly, these people have become used to the odour coming from the ponds.
â€œThe odour from the sewerage ponds has become normal because we have had it throughout our stay here,â€ says Christina Kabaso, 50, a resident of Lusakaâ€™s Garden township.
She says she remembers passing through the ponds over twenty years ago and there were no signs of the surrounding area developing into residential plots.
â€œI used to pass through the ponds and this land where we are was plain but little did I know that I would live this close to these ponds. My niece bought this house two years ago,â€ Ms Kabaso said.
â€œWe are not here illegally; we have genuine papers from the local authority. We have no problems staying here but the only challenge is the stench, we are to blame for coming this close – itâ€™s all because of insufficient land in Lusaka. I wish the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company can fence the ponds so that people do not drown,â€ Ms Kabaso added.
But Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company public relations manager Topsy Sikalinda says the utility company has no intentions of fencing the sewerage ponds because of budgetary challenges.
â€œOur priority this year is not to fence the sewerage ponds, this year we are connecting people to clean piped water,â€ Mr Sikalinda said.
But simply put, staying closer to the sewerage ponds, which were established in 1962, is a serious health hazard.
Public health specialist Canisius Banda says wastewater in sewerage ponds carry many disease-causing organisms
Dr Banda says bacteria, viruses, and parasites (including worms and protozoa), are the types of pathogens in wastewater that are hazardous to humans.
â€œFungi that can cause skin, eye, and respiratory infections also grow in sewerage and sewerage sludge. Scientists believe there may be hundreds of disease-causing organisms present in sewage and wastewater that have yet to be identified,â€ Dr Banda added.
According to Dr Banda, bacteria are microscopic organisms responsible for several wastewater-related diseases, including typhoid, paratyphoid, bacillary dysentery, gastroenteritis, and cholera.
â€œMany of these illnesses have similar symptoms, which vary in severity. Most infect the stomach and intestinal tract and can cause symptoms like headache, diarrhoea (sometimes with blood), abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Depending on the bacteria involved, symptoms can begin hours to several days after ingestion,â€ Dr Banda said.
Dr Banda, who is also United Party for National Development (UPND) Vice-president for politics, says the death of Zambian local authority systems and its repercussions for town planning pose a challenge for planners.
â€œThe implemented reforms have incapacitated local government as an agency for town planning, entangling the profession. The challenge for the planners now is how to avoid or stop implementation of policies that negatively affect the profession and the people at large. For the Zambian case, the system has already collapsed and the question is on how to increase efficiency in the town planning agencies and restore public confidence,â€ Dr Banda says.
â€œAs local government has collapsed, should it be resuscitated â€“ how far can planners influence its resuscitation having failed to stop it from collapsing â€“ or should new agencies be established?â€ he added.
But just how did the residential area surrounding the sewerage ponds come about?
According to the Lusaka City Council, Garden township is one of the several examples of unplanned settlements.
LCC public relations manager Mulunda Habeenzu says the residential area in question was due to an illegal settlement.
â€œI donâ€™t think the local authority and the ministry of lands can overlook the international guidelines for sewerage ponds which indicate that any human development should take place over 500 metres away from the ponds. The people living closer to the sewerage ponds started as illegal settlers. The major problem here is political cadres and their councillors who from time immemorial have been distributing land or plots without consulting us or the ministry,â€ Mr Habeenzu says.
Townships by their unplanned nature pose a lot of challenges for service delivery. They generally lack proper infrastructure like roads and the houses are not accurately numbered, thereby inhibiting effective delivery of basic services like water and roads.
Evidenced from Garden township, people build at will, without putting into consideration the basic necessities that will qualify a place as a residential area.
By DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka