Angeline Chiurayi (24) and Monica Hove (50) have lived for several years in the high-density suburb of Mabvuku, in Harare, which is heavily polluted with cement dust from a cement- producing company, situated a few metres from their houses.
Every morning when they wake up, they have always observed that the windows of all the houses in the area would have a fine layer of white cement dust, a result of the heavy pollution in the air.
“The cement dust is affecting us and the vegetation in the suburb. Our children often suffer from chest problems but sometimes we dismiss that as winter coughs because we have never been taught anything about pollution, dust and the effects,” said Chiurayi.
Although a lot of Zimbabweans have been exposed to air and water pollution by companies operating near the areas of their residence, an environmental lawyer with the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, Shamiso Mtisi, said the legal framework in Zimbabwe should task these companies producing effluent to at least help the affected communities through corporate social responsibility programmes.
“We do not have any specific legal instruments that call upon companies to exercise corporate social responsibility programmes on communities affected by pollution to their environments,” said Mtisi. “We do not have a law that actually compels these companies to develop these communities by maybe building clinics, schools, and so on.”
He said corporate social responsibility programmes should be made a legally binding component.
An environmentalist with the Chibememe Earth Healing Association, Gladman Chibememe, said whenever there was pollution of the eco-system, of which people were a component, there was a widespread effect as the effluent produced affected water sources that flowed into small rivers and streams situated within people’s vicinities.
“These streams and rivers can have fish that could be of value to the community. Chemicals like fertiliser, cyanide and mercury are poisonous and can affect water used for consumption by people. It also affects the soil, such that urban agriculture is not possible,” said Chibememe.
He added that companies were aware that the effluent spewed from their production chains had a negative impact on the environment.
“They should make the chemicals less poisonous to the people. They should not deposit them raw because they can be detrimental to people’s health,” he said.
Chibememe said companies should actually treat the environment in a responsible manner by rehabilitating dumping areas.
“Some companies like mines dig pits and the land is degraded and so they have the responsibility of rehabilitating the land,” he said.
In terms of the effects of cement dust on people’s health and its effects on the environment, according to Mtisi, it was a health hazard as it violated the people’s rights to clean air and the growth of vegetation around their yards.
“We recommend that companies need to upgrade their technology so that they produce less cement dust. Nowadays there is new technology that reduces pollution in the air and in the water,” said Mtisi.
He added that Zimbabwe had Environmental Management Atmospheric Pollution Control Regulations in terms of the Environment Management Act passed in 2009, which prohibited companies without licences from emitting substances that caused air pollution.
“In terms of the Act there are pollution standards that companies should comply with. What it means is that the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) should make sure that these companies adhere to the conditions stipulated in the licence. However, due to limited resources EMA has not been able to do monitoring and analysis of these companies to check on their pollution levels that might affect communities,” said Mtisi.
Chibememe said people had the right to information about pollution and the effects of chemicals to their environment.
“Actually, it is the right of local communities to have access to information on things that have effects on their health because they have a right to a clean environment, which means they have a right to environmental information,” he said.
He said if people had information about pollution to their environment and its effects, whenever they got sick it would be easy for them to tell what might be causing their ailments, for example, tuberculosis.
Chibememe said companies should make people aware of the dangers of their chemicals as part of moral business ethics.