Tanzanian city gets new sewage scheme to curb disease, ocean pollution

by Kizito Makoye | @kizmakoye | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 11 September 2017 10:00 GMT

A woman walks on a bridge over a river of polluted water in Dar es Salaam, September 7, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kizito Makoye

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Wastewater treatment plants, to be built in a $600-million project backed by the World Bank and other donors, are intended to improve human and marine health

By Kizito Makoye

DAR ES SALAAM, Sept 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For Andrew Kilula, the wastewater perpetually seeping from his toilet presents a daunting and costly challenge.

"When my children step in it, they get sick. I don't always have the money to treat them," he said.

The father of six, who lives in the Kigogo area of Dar es Salaam, about 20 minutes by car from the centre of Tanzania's biggest city, has no choice other than to discharge the sludge from his toilet in the nearby Msimbazi River.

"I do it at night because it's not allowed. If you get caught they can fine you heavily," said the 41-year-old.

Most residents in this crowded neighbourhood lack access to sanitation services, such as cesspits emptied by private firms.

"It's far too expensive to hire a cesspit tanker. They charge around 60,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $27) for one trip," said Kilula, who cannot afford to empty his own cesspit.

"I honestly don't like to pollute the river's water, while I know people use it for growing vegetables," said the carpenter.

However, he now has reason to hope he can stop, as authorities in the port city are working to build a sewage network that will pass through his neighbourhood.

It is part of a broader strategy to provide better sanitation services for residents, while sparing the Indian Ocean's aquatic life from wastewater pollution.

Fishermen dock at Magogoni fish market close to a pipeline discharging sewage into the ocean in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, September 7, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kizito Makoye

DIRTY SEAS

Ocean contamination is a problem in all Tanzania's coastal cities, as growing populations and industrial activity have led to the dumping of effluents and chemical spills, said officials with the environment directorate in the Vice President's Office.

Under the $600-million Dar es Salaam sewage scheme, backed by the World Bank and other donors, wastewater treatment plants with the capacity to treat an average of 200,000 cubic metres of liquid waste a day will be installed in three city locations, the government announced at the end of August.

"We believe this project will help ease sewage disposal problems for the city residents," said Remanus Mwang'ingo, acting CEO of the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA). The city will be able to handle sewage from 30 percent of its residents by 2020, up from 10 percent now, he added.

The seabed pipeline currently discharging raw sewage into the ocean emits a vile stench near the presidential state house, but this will be diverted to a treatment plant installed in the Jangwani wetland area, adjacent to the city centre and close to the Msimbazi River mouth, Mwang'ingo said.

A network of sewage pipelines linking different city suburbs will also be installed, the government said.

"This initiative must aim to prevent sewage from spilling over in the streets," said Agustina Mrindoko, a newspaper vendor on Azikiwe street.

CURBING CHOLERA

As one of Africa's fastest-growing cities, with 70 percent of its 4.4 million residents living in informal settlements, Dar es Salaam is highly vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

Poorly built storm-water drains are frequently clogged by solid waste, meaning that heavy rainfall quickly leads to flooding and water contamination, local residents said.

In the centre of Dar es Salaam, the existing sewage network often becomes overwhelmed during the rainy season, forcing effluent to overflow and exposing residents to health risks.

"People contract cholera because they drink contaminated water," said Ali Mzige, a public health consultant with the AAM International Reproductive and Child Health Clinic. "Any effort to handle wastewater from the toilet is commendable."

Mzige urged residents in crowded neighbourhoods to refrain from discharging raw sewage into drainage channels to avoid contracting the potentially fatal illness.

The new sewage treatment facilities should help prevent disease outbreaks, officials said. The plants will also have the capacity to generate their own electric power using biogas generated from methane in human faeces.

DAWASA's Mwang'ingo said the rest of the solid waste will be turned into manure to fertilise city farms and gardens, while treated water from the sewage plants will be used for irrigation and cooling industrial machinery, among other purposes.

(Reporting by Kizito Makoye; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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