Industrial Growth and Water Pollution: Implications and Challenges on Swaziland
Introduction Waste generation due to the expansion of industrial activity in Swaziland has a serious negative impact on the water resource base. Rivers not far from the industries continue to be seen dirty and contaminated and this results in the decline of the quality of the water. This problem is persisting and cannot be ignored given that it can have a serious long-term impact on the national economy. Water like any other natural resource is most important for the future of humans, animals and plants. It is essential for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses.
The problem of water pollution is more evident in the Matsapha industrial site1 within the Manzini urban area where the problem of urbanisation is visible and serious. A large number of people migrate from the rural areas to urban areas in search for jobs. This is perpetuated by the growth of industries in the urban centres. However, the rural–urban migration is a problem in itself. It leads to unplanned settlements in the cities, accompanied by limitations such as poor sanitation. Consequently, waste is generated and discharged by the residential activities and this ends up polluting the rivers nearby.
The Usushwana river 2 is the only river next to the industrial site. It continues to be contaminated by the waste discharged by the various industries within the site. This threatens the lives of downstream users. Agricultural activities (both crop production and livestock farming) and domestic rural supplies depend largely on this river. Furthermore, the river is the only inhabitant for some animals and plants along its course. Therefore, failure to protect the river by reducing, controlling and preventing the pollution can lead to the loss of the humans, animals and plants.
The government in collaboration with interested and affected parties and stakeholders is faced with the task of finding urgent strict measures of controlling waste discharges especially at source. Some environmental laws and regulations have been put into place; however, the pollution is seen to be persisting. This is an indicator that the negligent industries are not complying with these laws and regulations. They are faced with the question of what the compliance will cost their businesses as profit maximisation is their major goal.
The paper focuses on the activities of various industries in the Matsapha industrial site located not far from Usushwana River. It investigates the effects of the pollution on the activities of farmers and households located next to the river. A small case of interviews with a number of industries in Matsapha and relevant ministries will also be carried out. This will assist the researcher in critically analysing the effect of the present environmental policy design and what the future holds for Swaziland given this challenge.
Households downstream were visited and interviewed using open and closed-ended questionnaires. Basically, they were asked about the problems they encounter resulting from the use of the polluted water from the Usushwana River, and what they think should be done to minimise the impact of industrial activity on the water resource.
Effects of water Pollution on Households All interviewed households depend largely on the water from the Usushwana River mainly for domestic purposes such as drinking and cooking. They have been using the water for more than five (5) years. This period is long enough to compare the situation today with that in the past successfully. Below is the distribution of the responses presented in a table.
Table 1 Response by the respondents in Nhlambeni and Ngonini Communities
Source: Interviews with households in Ngonini and Nhlambeni communities
Water Quality All respondents indicated that the quality of the water in the Usushwana River has declined. The problem is worsening year after year since all respondents admitted that the water quality was better in the past before the growth of the industrial activities upstream in Matsapha. Today the situation is unbearable; toilet paper and other pollutants can be seen floating on the water, and the water has a very bad smell. They further complained that even the drinks and food they prepare smell of the dirty water.
Bathing and doing laundry using the water is very disappointing to all respondents, since the water is also sticky. They have also noted that the water affects the quality and colour of the clothes. They strongly feel it is no-longer safe and healthy to continue using the water. The dirt in the river is now in piles due to that the water has lost velocity.
Water Treatment 66.7% of the respondents do treat the water before use. This is done by either boiling the water or using Jik chemical that is sold in the community shops. All respondents including the 33.3% indicated that although it helps to treat the water, the problem is the cost associated with treating the water. 33.3% admitted that they do not treat the water mainly because it is time consuming and very tiresome if the family size is big. Another problem is that they cannot afford the amount to buy the Jik chemical since the prices are escalating in the shops and their income is very low.
Health Status All respondents in the two communities expressed concern for their health. They relate some sicknesses to the polluted water since they fall sick immediately after using the water from the river. The respondents have been in and out of hospitals, and one respondent indicated that she and her daughter have just been discharged from hospital due to polluted water related sicknesses. The water in-take leads to stomach aches and diarrhoea cases. Respondents also complained of irritating itching skin rash that develops after using the water. Feet infection is also a common problem when crossing the river since there are no bridges in the areas.
All 30 respondents complained of the huge amounts of money they spend in the hospitals, with the addition of the transport costs. 80% of the respondents indicated that the period of time they spend away from school and work because of illness is too long and unaccepted in some work places. As a result some respondents have lost their jobs, and the performance of children at school is very poor due to the high rate of absenteeism.
All interviewees have raised concern about how the water has affected swimming and fishing activities. They used to enjoy swimming in the river in the past, especially in hot days. However, today there is no freedom to swimming since it is hazardous to their health.
Fishing is still done, but the respondents indicated that they are not happy with the quantity and quality of fish in the river. The fish is for home consumption and the surplus is sold in the community local markets. The fish is sometimes seen dead floating on the water as a result of the pollutants, thus the fish stock in the river is in decline. Some respondents admitted that they do collect the dead fish for cooking despite the fact that the fish is poisonous and not safe for their health. They admitted that sometimes they do suffer from stomach aches after eating the fish. The fishing activity is continuing although the residents complain that the fish fetch very low prices from the markets because of their bad smell and bad taste.
Income-generating Projects 80% of the respondents pointed out that the polluted water has crippled a lot of income-generating projects in the communities. In the past, they used to supplement their income with the money generated from pottery and mat making businesses. However, the polluted water has destroyed the special type of grass and mud that was found in the river. The remaining 20% of the respondents were not engaged in the above mentioned businesses. However, they complained of the decline in the quality of river sand due to the dirty and sticky water.
Government Aid 80% of the respondents denied that there had been any help from the government. They admitted that they have in many occasions seen government officials visiting the river for inspection, taking photos of the river, but nothing has been done yet. The other 20% indicated that they do get help from the government through the Ministry of Health. People from the Ministry sometimes provide their children with some medication and educate them on how to take necessary precautions before using the polluted water.
All the respondents feel that the government is neglecting them. For instance, next to the river a sewage plant is being constructed and this confirms the feelings of the respondents. They fear this may worsen the situation as the dirt from the sewage works will find its way into the river. They feel that if the government really cared about their health she should have provided them with clean water before allowing the sewage plant to be constructed.
Non-Government Aid 93% claim that there have not received any assistance from any of the non-governmental organisations. However, 7% of the respondents claim that they do get financial assistance from religious organisations. As a result, they are able to buy the Jik chemical for treating the water and cover part of the medical costs.
Proposed Alternatives All respondents strongly feel that they need clean water and bridges in their communities. In an attempt to deal with the problem community members once approached one of the major pollutants in the Matsapha industrial site for a solution to the water problem. They advised the pollutant to provide boreholes for the communities following its failure to control the waste it discharges into the river. However, the industry has not done anything so far despite its promise to provide clean water as per the request of the communities.
Control of Water Pollution Given the continual threat of water pollution to the lives of downstream users, the government is seen to be making a determined real effort to control the pollution. A new Water Act, 2003 has been enacted by the King and parliament. Industries that propose to discharge waste directly into the rivers without further treatment are compelled to apply for a waste control permit. The holder of the permit would be expected to comply with the terms and conditions under the waste control permit. The applicant should submit plans for the waste disposal, specifying most importantly the estimated process to be used to treat the water, estimated daily and annual volumes of waste to be discharged, location of the point of discharge and the nature of the receiving water.
Industries are compelled to do the Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) before they begin to operate. The major aim of this assessment is to assess the type of chemical, biological constituents and temperature of the waste to be discharged and the degree of the pollution that the industry will cause once it has started operating.
The government also carries the burden of providing treatment plants in each industry. However, the problem today is that these plants are not properly managed by the industries; hence the waste ends up in the rivers before being treated.
In its continued effort, the government regulates the amount of waste discharged into the river by each industry. Permit holders are, therefore, bounded to keep the law not to dispose amounts of waste that exceed the permitted limits. Normal disposal (small amount of waste) in the rivers is allowed since it is easier to manage. Furthermore, there are limitations to the time or hours of day when the waste maybe discharged.
Industries are invited to workshops meant to raise awareness and educate the industries on the severe effects of the polluted water. It has been learned that the workshops are effective but to a certain extent. Industries normally stop their incautious behaviour and practise normal disposal of waste for a short time and would eventually start exceeding the permitted limits again.
Despite the effort put by the government in controlling the pollution, industries fail to adhere to the laws and continue with their careless actions. This is largely due to that industries are faced with the challenge of weighing up the costs and benefits of complying with the environmental laws and regulations. They fear the waste treatment costs, charges for the discharge of waste into the rivers and that limiting the amounts of waste disposed in the rivers might cripple their production.
According to the new Water Act 2003, if any industry fails for three (3) successive years to comply with the any regulation under the waste control permit, the permit may cancelled (a notice is given before the cancellation). If an emergency exists that poses a threat to health of the people, the permit may be suspended for a period considered necessary.
In case of cancellation and suspension of permits, the permit holder has to cease discharge of the waste or otherwise comply with the Act. However, if the industry continues to discharge the waste into the river it may be forced to stop its activity which is a source of pollution.
Conclusion and Policy Recommendation It is evident from all the responses that the water pollution crisis is worsening year after year due to the growth of the industrial activity. All respondents strongly feel that urgent action need to be taken to arrest the situation. They suggest that they should be provided with water tanks, boreholes and tap water so as to have access to clean water, since they believe the government has failed to manage and control the problem at source.
Income generating projects meant to supplement incomes of the people have collapsed as a result of the polluted water. All respondents further complain of the huge costs incurred if they treat the water before use, plus escalating medical costs due to water polluted related sicknesses. These sicknesses (i.e. diarrhoea) make them very weak physically hence they cannot go to work or to school. This implies that the polluted water is making the people in these communities poorer. Water pollution, therefore, should be recognised as one of the major factors that perpetuate poverty in the country.
The polluted water has also led to the loss of animals and plants downstream. The majority of the respondents have admitted that dead fish are seen floating on the river, and the grass that was used in making mats for sale no-longer grows in the river because the water is now sticky and dirty.
80% of those interviewed feel that the government is not taking any initiative to solve the water crisis. They claim that they have not received any kind of assistance from the government since the beginning of the problem. On the other hand, the government is seen to be concerned to control the pollution. A new Water Act, 2003 has been enacted to replace the Water Act, 1967 which was not focussed and effective.
However, the communities are not aware of this new Act. This indicates the importance of involving the communities in pollution and waste management related decision-making. Confer powers at community level to allow them to contribute in finding solutions to pollution problems since they are the ones who know the problem better. This would be a cornerstone for development of a focussed and effective policy. This aspect is currently lacking and urgently required in order to make waste management easier.
Furthermore, the government should organise educational programmes on this pollution problem through workshops and seminars etc. Communication and educational activities are very important aspects that need to be improved in order to increase the people’s awareness of the water pollution. These may lead to the success of the communities to combat the effects of the pollution.
The sources of pollution and the receiving environment should be monitored. The government should undertake regular inspections and audits to ensure that the waste control permit holder is undertaking the necessary compliance monitoring.
NB: The research is still in progress. The complete paper will include the following:
References Dasgupta, P. (1995): The Population Problem: Beijer Reprint Series No. 60.
___________(1996): The Economics of the Environment: Beijer Reprint Series No. 82.
Dlamini, W.S.: The Industrial/Business sector must Protect the Environment: Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: Urbansprawl in Swaziland: The Environmentaleffects: Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: Let Us Protect Our Precious Rivers:Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: Our Earth, Our Future-Let Us Protect It:Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: Biological Diversity-The Spice of Life:Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: Human Numbers on the Increase:Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
____________: let Us Rage War on Waste:Environmental Educational Article, SNTC, Lobamba, Swaziland.
National Physical Development plan (1995), Swazi News.
Perrings, C. et al (1994): Biodiversity Conservation and Economic Development: The Policy Problem and Unsolved issues: Beijer reprint Series no. 42.
Swaziland Environment Authority. Swaziland environment Action Plan (1997) Vol. 1
1 Matsapha industrial site is the biggest industrial site in Swaziland.
2 Usushwana river is one of the major rivers in Swaziland.