The government has acted promptly to immediately shut down a dumping site following Monday morning’s incident in which three people at the University of Namibia (Unam) campus in Katima Mulilo were hospitalised after they collapsed due to toxic smoke from the landfill situated close to Unam.
To make matters worse, the Katima Mulilo Town Council that is in charge of the dumpsite has no environmental clearance certificate in place for the said site, which affects thousands of residents within its surroundings.
Over the years Unam students have expressed grave concern regarding the dumping grounds being too close to the institution, which they said posed a health hazard.
But the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, yesterday told New Era upon inquiry that he had directed the environmental commissioner, Teofilus Nghitila, to close down the site, which is situated about 800m west of Katima Mulilo campus.
He said the town council was issued with a compliance order to shut down the dumpsite with immediate effect due to it posing a health hazard.
“We closed it down yesterday (Tuesday). We also closed down the one in Rundu. We are implementing the Environmental Management Act of 2007, Section 27, that requires that all listed activities regarding waste disposal sites should be granted a clearance certificate. A dumpsite is one of them. It can’t just be identified and then people dump whatever waste they want to,” he said.
Concerned students said three people collapsed due to the highly toxic smoke that engulfed Unam on Monday morning. Two are senior staff members, while the other is a student who has a history of asthma.
“It is very dangerous. People can die. I told the commissioner that if something happens then we would be held liable. It is a pity the officials are not happy. We shouldn’t blame the commissioner for doing his work. It’s not the first time we hear such reports that people who come work at the campus quit after a few months due to the toxic smoke,” he noted.
According to Shifeta, it is a crime to dump waste anywhere other than at a waste disposal site granted a clearance certificate.
He said the penalty for disposing waste in any unauthorised way is very heavy – a fine of up to N$500 000 or imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both.
“After identifying a site people should consult us, and then the environmental commissioner will go and do an assessment to see if it’s suitable for dumping waste. Only then will the minister declare it as a dumping site,” he advised.
Shifeta said he addressed the issue with the Association for Local Authorities in Namibia (ALAN) where mayors, governors and councillors were informed about the Act.
He advised them to employ environmental practitioners to advise them on issues related to the Act.
Shifeta also warned companies transporting toxic materials. He said that ministry officials would be working with the police at roadblocks to check those transporting toxic materials without permission.
“We need to know which toxic materials come into the country. Some shouldn’t be allowed here. Before they import these materials, they should liaise with the environmental commissioner.”
He also rubbished allegations that the process of acquiring a clearance certificate takes too long.
“It is not true. Consultants are the ones taking long. Within three working days the commissioner confirms receipt and within seven days he gives a response whether to grant a certificate or not. If there is anyone who is claiming a delay, they should come to me,” he challenged.
Contacted for comment, the mayor of Katima Mulilo Georgina Mwiya-Simataa on Monday said the town council “is aware of the crisis and is in the process of developing a new dumping site far from residents.”
“I heard that someone is already having asthma. No doctor informed me exactly as to what happened. We are concerned about the site and plans are underway to relocate it. We are not doing anything deliberate,” said Mwiya-Simataa.
She noted that land has already been made available and once the environmental assessment is done work will commence.