BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE – Sibusiso Nyathi, 43, says she was thrilled when she moved into her seven-room house she had built in Mahatshula, a medium-density suburb of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.
She saved for 13 years to afford the house, which cost $25,000 in a country where the per capita gross national income is just $460 per year, according to UNICEF. Her sister, who works in South Africa, also gave her money to build the home.
But five years later, Nyathi says that a dilapidated sewage pipe nearby is ruining her dream home. The pipe has been spewing its ghastly effluent into the streets for more than four years.
“I am under siege,” Nyathi says. “Pungent smell has engulfed this area for years now. No amount of air fresheners can overpower this smell. Although I keep all windows closed, I cannot keep the smell outside.”
Nyathi, a mother of three boys and one girl, says the situation is even worse during the rainy season, when the area is flooded. She says the area becomes impassable, and the roads are awash with sewage.
“My children used to spend hours in the streets, playing soccer with their friends,” Nyathi says. “Now, they cannot step outside without confronting this disaster. They now stay confined in the house, and they are all unhappy.”
Nyathi says she has notified the local council officials but hasn’t received a favorable response.
“Fellow residents have also made reports, but nothing has happened,” she says dejectedly. “I can no longer afford to waste my resources to visit the city council officers as they evidently do not have any interest in dealing with this problem.”
Nyathi says that the sewer nightmare is ruining Bulawayo’s reputation.
“This city can no longer be called a City of Kings because kings do not live in sewage,” she says angrily. “The city council officials have let everyone in this city down. I am disappointed.”
Residents of Zimbabwe’s major cities say that dilapidated sewer systems are filling their streets with waste, contaminating their water supply and harming their health. City council officials say that the government is aware of the problem but can’t afford to overhaul the outdated infrastructure, which is further hampered by an acute water shortage. Residents’ associations are fostering a dialogue between citizens and public service providers as they continue to pressure the government.
Hyperinflation from 2006 to 2008 led to an increase in poverty levels in Zimbabwe and a decrease in the public sector’s capacity to respond effectively to service delivery needs in the struggling economy, according to a 2010 joint report by the Zimbabwe government and the United Nations. Meanwhile, the service needs have been growing.
“Population pressure in the urban areas has overburdened sewage and water reticulation systems, creating serious environmental health problems such as the much publicised (sic) cholera outbreak in 2009,” according to the report. “The once functional household waste management system has deteriorated, resulting in huge mounds of uncollected waste.”
Across the street from Nyathi’s house