THROUGHOUT recorded history, mankind has been plagued by a variety of both natural and manmade ills.
According to an environmental journal, we are experiencing the man-made plague of environmental noise from which there is virtually no escape, no matter where we are — in our homes and yards, on our streets, in our cars, at theaters, restaurants, parks, arenas, and in other public places.
Sadly, despite attempts to regulate it, noise pollution has become an unfortunate fact of life worldwide. In a way that is similar to second-hand smoke, second-hand noise is an unwanted airborne pollutant produced by others; it is imposed on us without our consent, often against our wills, and at times, places, and volumes over which we have no control.
There is growing evidence that noise pollution is not merely an annoyance; like other forms of pollution, but it has wide-ranging adverse health, social, and economic effects.
The noise problems of the past pale in significance when compared with those experienced by modern city dwellers; noise pollution continues to grow in extent, frequency, and severity as a result of population growth, urbanisation, and technological developments.
But what is noise pollution?
It is defined as unwanted sound. Environmental noise consists of all the unwanted sounds in our communities except that which originates in the workplace. Environmental noise pollution, a form of air pollution, is a threat to health and well-being.
It is thought to be more severe and widespread than ever before, and it will continue to increase in magnitude and severity because of population growth, urbanisation, and the associated growth in the use of increasingly powerful, varied, and highly mobile sources of noise.
For example, one of Harare’s popular entertainment joints, Mereki Shopping Centre in Warren Park has reportedly subjected residents in and around the residential area to loud music from bars at the centre which attracts thousands of people from all walks of life in the capital.
The residents were crying foul over noise pollution which they claim was disturbing their peace. It must be noted that the potential health effects of noise pollution are numerous, pervasive, persistent, and medically and socially significant.
Noise produces direct and cumulative adverse effects that impair health and that degrade residential, social, working, and learning environments with corresponding real (economic) and intangible (well-being) losses. It interferes with sleep, concentration, communication, and recreation.
“I have a right to sleep or to engage in conversation in our homes without having to shout or to reduce the volume of my television to be able to speak or hear above the noise from these bars,” Sibonile Mutisi (32) complained.
An elderly woman, only referred to as Ambuya Kwaramba, grumbled that the noise emanating from the bars at Mereki gave her sleepless nights. She said it also triggers high blood pressure which causes heart failure.
“I have been on high blood pressure pills since 1996, so with this noise it irritates me so much that my doctor told me to stay away from noise as it worsens my health,” Ambuya Kwaramba added.
A resident, who referred to himself as Baba Clive, expressed concern at the loud music played by car cleaners at the shopping centre which also operates an open air disco. The entertainment joint normally hosts various DJs who play music until the early hours of each morning.
“There seems to be public address systems competitions at Mereki and the noise is unbearable,” Baba Clive noted.
The music itself was not the only concern raised by residents about noise coming from the establishment.
Baba Clive claims he has sometimes been blamed for complaining especially when DJs play music with vulgar lyrics.
“I do not want my children to hear that kind of language,” he said.
“There are a whole lot of involuntary listeners. We have a problem with noise pollution.”
Another resident Oswald Chijoko says that there is need for the relevant authorities to toughen regulations.
“I think they are operating outside their licensing conditions. I don’t know if their licenses recognise the noise disturbances they cause to the general public. We want a peaceful and quieter environment,” Chijoko said.
But, Lenn Matterhorn of Maddunit Family Sounds says they always notify the police when they are playing music till late at Mereki.
“We always play music on weekends so conditions were attached to us. We were told to restrict on hours of operation. We don’t exceed 1o’oclock in the morning,” Matterhorn said.
Businessman Webster Machokoto said: “I think we have a challenge. Noise is inevitable especially during the festive season and with the need to lure more customers that will mean more noise.”
It has been noted that the level of noise pollution in some parts of Harare suburbs was also on the increase.
City of Harare Amenities director Dombo Chibanda was recently quoted as saying noise from a neighbour or an informal venue nearby can be unbearable, but often residents do not know what to do about it.
Some are of the view that the continuous occupation and use of the premises as a place of entertainment contravened the building and town planning regulations stipulated by the Harare City Council.
Harare Residents’ Trust community coordinator Sharon Magodyo, however, said poor urban planning had given rise to noise pollution.
“If Mereki had been located in the right place there could be no problems at all. Noise disrupts the environment of a society,” she said.
Magodyo added that this was unfair to residents because it disturbed their normal activities like communication, sleep and quality of life.
“Noise can also result in health such as hearing problems and they should consider people with hypertension who do not want noise. The council should deal with this issue and ensure that people’s rights are not violated they should live in a peaceful environment,” Magodyo said.
Noise pollution in Harare is now a common unchecked habit that was going unpunished.
The Harare City Inspectorate department noted that there has been no schedule of fines for breaching city noise regulation, but public entertainment venues should have a licence which control the way certain activities are run.
Warren Park councillor Tranos Moyo said that no-one had raised this concern to him.
However, there were noise by-laws that safeguard residents from unwanted disturbance.
Harare’s noise by-laws were under the Urban Councils Act, Section 180, Harare (Noise) By-laws; 90/95.
Nevertheless, it was noticed that not much was being done to enforce these laws. There also seemed to be no fine schedule or arrests for violation of the regulations.
Regrettably, it has been two years since the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) started working on a Statutory Instrument (SI) that allows the agency to enforce section 79 to 81 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27).
The sections provide for fines ranging from level 1 which is $20 to 14 which forces one to pay $5 000 and/or up to 1 year in prison for exceeding noise standards set up by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at both residential and rural areas.
WHO stipulates that noise should not exceed 55 decibels during the day and should be less than (35dB a radio played at moderate volume) at night in residential areas.
“The SI is not yet out but work is in progress. There is wide consultation from stakeholders that are involved and affected that needs to be completed,” EMA environment education and publicity manager Steady Kangata said.
Kangata also said that sections 79 to 81 of the EMA Act only focused on individual and industrial activities. There was no mention of noise disturbances caused by entertainment places and churches.
In his book Noise: Biggest Polluter on the Planet, John Stewart noted that: “Even amongst many environmentalists noise pollution is forgotten, downplayed, sometimes even dismissed.”
The book shows that noise was threatening the planet’s natural sound systems in much the same way as climate change was threatening runaway global warming.
“Moreover, noise exacerbates social injustice. While noise can and does affect rich and poor alike, it is poorer communities across the globe that is most exposed to it and, as a rule, has the least opportunity to do anything about it.”
Experts agree that noise in high quantities have the following harmful effects and can contribute to the rise in blood pressure, stress, vasoconstriction and increased incidence of coronary artery disease.
In animals, noise is said to increase the risk of death by altering predator or prey detection and avoidance. It can also interfere in reproduction, navigation and contribute to permanent hearing loss.
WHO recognises the health hazards of environmental noise, that it can cause adverse psychosocial and physiological effects to public health.
The aim of enlightened governmental controls should be to protect citizens from the adverse effects of airborne pollution, including those produced by noise.
People have the right to choose the nature of their acoustical environment; it should not be imposed by others.