KATIMA MULILO – The Zambezi River is being polluted on a daily basis with grease, dirt and grime by motorists who drive to its banks to wash their vehicles. And it appears environmental officers are unable to enforce municipal by-laws that could see erring motorists subjected to a spot fine of N$500.
Motorists, most likely ignorant about the Environmental Management Act that prescribes a N$500 fine for pollution, drive to the river with buckets of soap that they use to wash grime and grease from their vehicles directly into the river, triggering a potential environmental hazard to riverine fauna and flora.
Zambezi residents see nothing wrong with washing their vehicles directly at the river, a habit that could definitely upset the river’s ecological system as research has shown that when motorists wash their cars directly into the river some soaps, grime, grease, phosphates and oil can cause excess algae to grow in the waterways. Algae looks bad, smells bad and harm water quality. As algae decay the process uses up oxygen in the water that fish need to survive.
In late 2006 fishing in Zambezi Region was provisionally closed after high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria were detected in the river and its tributaries.
Is was suspected at the time that the presence of E-coli and salmonella bacteria in the water might have been due to leakages from sewerage systems, especially from communities living along the river and around its channels.
At the time when the bacteria were detected the region had to do without freshwater fish such as Zambezi bream, tiger fish and others that over the years have provided people with a steady source of cheap protein.
In recent years fish have been scarce in the region, although the fisheries ministry has attributed the scarcity to overfishing by residents.
Morgan Saisai from the environment ministry in Zambezi Region says it should be everyone’s responsibility to protect the environment.
“When we talk of environmental ownership it is not only about washing cars but also those washing clothes – every water source should be protected, not to be polluted, so it is the responsibility of everyone to make sure that such things are not undertaken,” stressed Saisai.
Saisai added that when people are found washing their cars or clothes in the river they could be held liable to pay a spot fine of N$500 on admission of guilty.
“By law their cars can be impounded and the person can be tried in court through the Environmental Management Act. It is only that people who enforce the law – the police – are the umbrella but they don’t acquaint themselves with some of the environmental laws,” he said.
The CEO of Katima Mulilo Town Council, Raphael Liswaniso, acknowledged that washing cars at the river is not allowed, but he says that currently the council cannot do anything because they are understaffed. He however stressed that plans are underway to establish a traffic department that in the long run will assist to curb such behaviour.
“Traffic officers will patrol at the river. We are also going to debush the sideways of the river so that it becomes clean. We will put up signs that no washing of cars is allowed. People should wash their cars at home or at car washes,” he said.
The Zambezi River is not only a source of fish for the region, but NamWater also draws from it the potable water used in Katima Mulilo and at nearby settlements.