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WATER POLLUTION IN KALEYA RIVER: A THREAT TO THE PEOPLE OF CHIEF MWANACHINGWA

BY: REUBEN HAMBULO.

The Kaleya river situated about 10 kilometers South of Mazabuka town, with its genesis in Chikanka District meanders from upper Kaleya before giving birth to a squatter town ‘Kaleya Station.’ Surrounded by small and large commercial farms, the river has been a reliable source of water for the people of Chief Mwanachingwala and their livestock, downstream for many years.

With perennial characteristics, it discharges its content into the Kafue River, one of the most important rivers in Zambia economically.

When it rains plentifully, the river causes flooding to surrounding areas at the confluence of the Kafue river known as Kabanje, making it one of the most fertile places as the water sink with all the debris.

Kabanje village, sharing a lean boundary with Zambia sugar cane fields is practically an all year round agriculture area, thanks to Kaleya river. This is the village where you find all manner of vegetables and fresh maize all year round, supplying consistently to Mazabuka town.

Biodiversity has for many years been admirable in the Kaleya river until recently when man’s gluttonous behavior reversed the structure. Crabs, fish of all types especially cat fish, sardine fish, frogs of all types were patrons of the tranquil water in the Kaleya River. This has now stopped thanks to man who has changed water quality and quantity.

Dammed many times from its pinnacle in Chikankata accompanied by massive deforestation, the Kaleya stream has suffered a lot of structural damage due to commercial and subsistence activities, although it has resiliently continued to discharge its contents, owing to its hydraulic strength, according to experts.

Despite 2019 being the driest year in the recent history, the Kaleya stream, small as it may be, retained some water quantities, mainly from its underground recharge systems.

River bank cultivation, indiscriminate cutting of trees along the stream, brick molding and sand mining in few places have however, been blamed for the silting of the river, making it dry in some places.

The ecosystem in this stream of life has gradually disappeared, much to the consternation of old people who for a long time have raised eyebrows on commercial farmers who built dams across the stream, accusing them of discharging chemicals in the river channel.

“We just saw the reduction in the crabs and fish a delicacy of the people of this area,” said …Munanchinga who has lived near the river for over 50 years now.

He revealed in an interview that sometimes people would find fish, crabs and frogs floating dead in the stream without knowing the source of water poisoning.

The increasing number of people doing commercial and subsistence activities along the river are a danger to its survival, Mr. Munanchinga laments

A study report by the University of Zambia in 2001 indicates that, about 90 percent commercial farming was being done just about half a kilometer away from the Kaleya river while 60 percent was small scale farming. This therefore means that chemical effluents from fertilizers and pesticides where discharged into the river by rain water regularly. The study further reveals that the Kaleya river farming community use a lot of chemicals for both fertilizations, pest and weed control, making the water prone to contamination. Further, both commercial and small scale farmers were aware that chemical effluents being washed away from their farms were a danger to the environment.

Recently, a new strand of contamination by residents of Kaleya station township surfaced.

Mr. Munanchinga bemoans the growing recklessness where some Kachasu brewers clean their vessels right in the river, thereby contaminating the water with molasses, the major ingredient used to make the illegal beer.

He adds that the chemicals used in gardens and farms and the Kachasu residues discharged right in the river channel is killing the ecosystem and fauna.

Chemicals discharged in the water may have given rise to some invasive alien organisms threatening the rich bionetwork of the river.

There are adequate provisions with regards to water protection in this country which are being wantonly abrogated.

According to the ZEMA act No 12 of 2011, a person shall not discharge or apply any poisonous, toxic, eco-toxic, obnoxious or obstructing matter, radiation or other pollutant, or permit any person to dump or discharge such matter or pollutant into the aquatic environment in contravention of water pollution control standards established by the Agency in liaison with the relevant appropriate authority.

A novice’s look at the water in the Kaleya river reveals some brown color and when you move closer, there is an atrocious stench coming from the water.

Another farmer Danford Sindowe who recently moved closer to the stream to conduct aquaculture taking advantage of the availability of water which he pumps using his engine says, he has stopped his lucrative fish farming business because the water he has been relying on is heavily polluted.

“Many people here are Kachasu (Illicit beer) brewers and when cleaning their utensils, they come to the stream to clean and pour whatever waste right in the stream,” he revealed.  He laments that a lot of damage has been done to the ecosystem around the Kaleya river due to human activities.

Apart from seeing children selling prohibited sugar cane along the road, when you pass through Kaleya station township, you are provoked by a rancorous odor of Kachasu residues discharged on the ground near the road.

With the number of brewers swelling owing to the harsh economic situation in Zambia today, the brewing of Kachusu at Kaleya is commercially increasing, and the contamination of the ground water, depended upon by many households since most of them have no running water will continue.

It is believed that the Kachasu brand from Kaleya attracts people travelling hundreds of kilometers from as far as Namwala, Choma, Gwembe, Sesheke and Lusaka. The uninterrupted brewing of Kachasu at Kaleya has not only destroyed the water, but is a factor in the destruction of the forest as people cut logs to sell at a lucrative price in the kachasu industry.

Standing aloof for many years, the Mazabuka Municipal Council through its Public Relations officer Ruth Nzanzi says the public health department plans to conduct a community sensitization on the dangers of Kachasu brewing to public health and the environment.

Without putting a time frame when the sensitization will be conducted, Nzanzi says the council has used force but people of Kaleya who are mostly violent go back to the business as soon as the council officers leave.

“Brutality has not worked for us, and we want to engage the community so that they can be made aware of the dangers involved,” she said in an interview.

According to the brewers, the Kachasu from Kaleya is clean, sweet and so inviting that you do not close your eyes when swallowing and there is no burning sensation found in other brands as you drink.

Although the problem seems to be small, the cleaning of the brewing equipment by Kachasu brewers has put a finish to the bionetwork in the Kaleya river, posing a threat not only to the ecosystem but to the gardens, the animals and humans as the number of beneficiaries affected by the water pollution downstream is colossal.

Those doing gardening have complained that their crops are stunting and suspect that the contaminated water from the stream is the problem.

According to the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) act No 21 of 2011, where any person discharges or disposes of— (a) any organic or inorganic matter, including water containing such matter, into a water resource, whether directly or through drainage or seepage, so as to cause pollution of the water resource; or (b) any effluent or waste water which has been produced by, or results from, the use of water for any purpose, into a water resource, whether directly or through drainage or seepage; that person commits an offence, whether or not that person acted intentionally, and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand penalty units or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both.

In August 2019, members of a church who were baptized in the Kaleya stream complained of the smelly water as a result of people cleaning their Kachasu brewing utensils in the Kaleya stream. “The water smells like it is coming from a sugar refinery plant,” they complained.

Despite the provisions in both the ZEMA and WARMA acts respectively, the water management authority has failed to sanction polluters of the Kaleya river.

Further, the enactment of the WARMA act resulted in the creation of catchment councils who among their many functions is to: monitor water quality and implement regulations and guidelines on catchment protection. (warma act No 21 of 2011, Cap 20, (1k).

The continued contamination of water in the Kaleya river is an indicator that the staff in Mazabuka Warma offices, the catchment council and water users’ association (WUA) have gone to sleep or may be beneficiaries in the contamination.

Several appointments for an interview with WARMA management at Mazabuka office yield no results while Joshua Kapila, the Public relations officer refused to respond to a press query.

The Kaleya river housing the famous Musikili international Primary school in Mazabuka will soon be discharging dead water due to pollution if law enforcement agencies continue standing aloof.

Ends—-RH—MAZABUKA.Reuben Hambulo is a freelance environmental journalist based in Mazabuka.

Contact: +260973993400/0955888784.

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