Concerns about Mudi River, which passes through Blantyre, have fallen on deaf ears. Pollution from the industries and sewage from broken pipes is posing health hazards to thousands of people whose lives depend on the river.
“We used to go and swim, wash clothes and play in the river when we were young. But now it’s so bad that I cannot imagine people still use the water in the river with the whole dark substances and smell,” says Mario Chikunkhuzeni, 29, from Zingwangwa Township.
But a group of cleaners, designers and sculptors concerned about the polluted river have dedicated more than two months to clear its waste.
Art Malawi has cleared over 40 tonnes of waste to produce assorted products.
“What we’ve tried to do for 68 days is to clean and collect as much visible waste on the section of the Mudi River,” says its founder Manota Mphande.
He was standing on a heap of waste collected.
“This section was terrible. As you can see behind me, this is part of the waste that we’ve collected. In seven days, we’ve managed to collect over 40 tons of waste,” Mphande adds.
The waste include plastics, torn clothes, remains from mosquito nets and bottles.
The river is murky with dark substances from the things that people dump. A smell wafts through the air, especially in the morning and evening.
But campaigners blame the manufacturing industries upstream for dumping toxic chemicals into the river.
Mphande believes both the residents and the companies should take the responsibility.
He said: “We’ve got corporates that earn billions and billions of kwachas on year basis and none of them have come in to take corporate environmental responsibility.
“We’ve also encountered individual waste. So as individuals, we need to take responsibility for our waste.”
Mphande said art is an important tool to raise awareness.
By using art to turn waste from the river into usable goods, he hopes people can also understand ‘what we’re doing in a visual sense’.
Blantyre City Council accepts that some of the waste left uncollected end up in the river as well, but says its sanitation department lacks the capacity to collect all the waste from the city.
The council says they only manage to collect 300 tonnes out of 500 tonnes produced every day.
However, councillor Gertrude Chirambo, chairperson of the council’s environmental committee, lamented the behaviour of the industries and people who dump toxic residues, human wastes from pit latrines and much more during the night.
She stated: “When we have all gone to sleep, that’s when they empty their waste into the river. Some are smelly stuff.
“Some are chemicals that are killing the people because at the end of the Mudi River, as it runs down to the lower end, the people there they use the water to drink, to cook, to wash.”
Chirambo said despite laws enacted to end pollution, companies prefer to pay the penalties rather than sort out their mess.
Art Malawi has been making plastic bricks and producing carrier bags from pieces of clothes cleared from the river.
Mphande says they will give away the first batches of the bags to less fortunate students.
Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources Nancy Tembo says what the group has accomplished in a short time should be impetus for the government and individuals to do more.
“They have done quite a bit of work, but I think more has to be done and I think everyone needs to do their part to make sure that we bring Blantyre to step,” she says.—Radio France International