BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
IN their prime years, the serrated line of hills that separate the high-density suburbs of Warren Park D and Warren Park 1 in Harare were a marvel to watch.
Lines of indigenous trees proceeded from the foot to the top, virtually without interlude, providing some eccentric green liberty which allowed the area to breathe with ease.
An orchestra of birdsong consistently provided blood-stirring and intricate rhythms to those visiting the hills to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a peaceful and reinvigorating solo moment.
Not any more!
Heavy machinery and trucks now make cluttering noises all day long as they slowly eat into the hills, devouring the once charming panorama into a wasteland in search of gravel, a key input in the construction industry.
The once immaculately dressed hills now resemble a disused mine.
When the wind blew, it always carried a fragrance that made it so refreshing to smell the mulchy mix of the area’s perfume.
Now, the trucks and machines toss thick clouds of dust which daily expose the residents to respiratory complications.
The tall trees now only exist in the distant memories of the older generations and the hills bear unsightly scars that tell the story of the inevitable fate they face, vanishing.
The process of excavating the hills in search of gravel was sanctioned by Harare City Council, which argues that the gravel is being used for road rehabilitation programmes.
However, residents have no kind words for the city fathers who they accuse of prioritising their business interests at the expense of the residents’s health.
“The gravel extraction in Warren Park presents an environmental challenge that has a catastrophic health and environmental impact on the suburb,” Tinashe Muchenje, a Warren Park resident, said.
“People can no longer afford to open windows during the day because of dust. The trucks have badly damaged our recently refurbished road, compromising accessibility to the area. Council should immediately put an end to these activities and implement a comprehensive plan to address backfilling of the deep holes being left behind,” he added.
The situation in Warren Park is not an isolated case but is replayed in many localities across the country where interests of local authorities and individuals connected to them are being prioritised at the expense of people’s well-being and the environment.
The extraction of gravel in densely inhabited areas is now a growing concern as it comes with dire health and environmental consequences.
A World Health Organisation report titled Hazard Prevention and Control in the Work Environment: Airborne Dust noted that airborne dust presents serious risks for human health.
“Inhalable particles, those smaller than 10 μm, often get trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, thus can be associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma, tracheitis, pneumonia, allergic rhinitis and silicosis.”
According to the global health watchdog, finer dust particles may penetrate the lower respiratory tract and enter the bloodstream, where they can affect all internal organs and be responsible for cardiovascular disorders.
A global model assessment in 2014 estimated that exposure to dust particles caused about 400 000 premature deaths by cardiopulmonary disease in the over 30 populations.
Research has shown that the “gravel rush” has led to the total destruction of trees whose environmental importance cannot be overstated.
Environmentalists noted that the uprooting of trees is problematic because they help to improve air quality by intercepting and trapping dust and other pollutants from the air, adding that the shade from trees also provides a useful barrier to harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
They also play a part in combating global warming which stresses ecosystems through temperature rises, water shortages, increased fire threats, among others.
“We are approaching the rainy season and a plethora of dangers are looming because of these pits being left behind. If this is not urgently addressed and we have bountiful rains as we did last season, you will hear stories of people drowning or mudslides happening here,” another disgruntled Warren Park resident, Kudakwashe Mupfunya, said.
In December last year, three boys aged 10 and 11 drowned in a disused shaft they were swimming in Kuwadzana, Harare.
The shaft was reportedly left open by Harare City Council employees, and was filled with rainwater in which the boys were swimming when tragedy struck.
Contacted for comment, Warren Park councillor, Tichaona Mhetu, said he is aware of residents’ complaints.
“I engaged the Town Clerk, director of works and roads chief engineer, seeking a sustainable solution to those concerns,” Mhetu said, adding: “We toured the area together and agreed that a sustainable landfill plan be established and that a fence be erected on all pits pending the land rehabilitation but it is yet to be done.”
“Other issues discussed include but are not limited to the need for modern explosives which are less noisy and do not reverberate in a way that causes problems. This has since been implemented. For more information regarding the council’s position on the matter, kindly contact Michael Chideme, council’s corporate communications manager,” he said.
Efforts to get a comment from Chideme were futile as he had not responded to questions sent to him on Monday.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) senior environmental education and publicity officer for Harare, Batsirayi Sibanda, absolved the local authority of any wrongdoing.
“The gravel being extracted is for development purposes hence the need for the resource but we also expect the local authority to consider the residents and should have dust suppression measures in place including back-filling of burough pits after extraction,” Sibanda said.
Unfortunately, these measures have not been put in place and public health is being compromised which is a contravention of Section 73 of the Constitution which provides that: “Every person has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being …”
In the preamble to the 2030 Agenda, world leaders affirmed that they are determined to protect the planet from degradation but the political will to do this has been lacking.