Environment: Africa still reluctant to protect water sources

Green Cosmos organization launches the environment protection awareness campaign in Kitwe. Pollution is threatening the ecosystem. PHOTO/Martin Mulenga.
  • Human beings, who are so dependent on clean and safe water, are the very people responsible for the contamination of freshwater sources.
  • Despite clean water being essential to life, it is a scarce resource for Africans. 
  • Africa is the home to the world’s freshwater ecosystems. 

For decades, Africa’s water bodies have supported clean water, irrigation, fishing, livestock and transport. 

Today, all the major water bodies, according to the State of Africa’s Environment Report 2023, are under threat, and access to clean and healthy water is completely compromised. 

Human beings, who are so dependent on clean and safe water, are the very people responsible for the contamination of freshwater sources.

Dirty waters

Only in 2022, research conducted by UNICEF Kenya found that Kenya’s water sources are filled with unhealthy water for consumption. 

The research exposed Kenya’s waters of Lake Nakuru and Lake Victoria as choking to extinction by pollution. 

An unfortunate picture of the Nairobi River in Kenya. Pollution of water sources in Africa is a common occurrence. PHOTO/Daily Nation.

Several miles away, South Africa’s River UmBilo, in KwaZulu Natal, is not spared. The pollution has given the rivers a new color, killing plant and animal species that all along have called these water sources home.

Just adjacent to South Africa is Zambia, where River Kafue Basin, in the Chingola District, is hurting with heavy contamination. 

The Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) has remained the primary source of pollution, disposing of industrial waste materials and biochemical products directly into the river.

According to Water Witness International (WWI), River Kafue and its tributaries receive polluted discharges of effluent from the mining operation in Konkola Copper Mines, contaminating the water sources of communities and hence leading to serious health complications.

The report states that water pollution makes it nearly impossible for the water utility in Chingola, diminishing the efforts of Mulonga Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC), to treat water to meet drinking water standards.

Avoiding the law

Section 48 of the country’s Environmental Management Act 2021 prohibits water pollution, mandating the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) “To do all such things as are necessary for the monitoring and control of water pollution”, including establishing pollution control standards, setting conditions for the discharge of effluent into the environment, investigating suspected cases of water pollution, and monitoring water quality data.

Despite clean water being essential to life, it is a scarce resource for Africans. 

The report by the World Water Assessment Program (WWAP) 2021 estimates that lower-income countries like Zambia only treat approximately 28% of their municipal and industrial wastewater, forcing the country’s surface bodies such as River Kafue to suffer stress from discharges of industrial waste and sewage, agricultural run-off of pesticides, fertilizers, and sediments.

Youths affiliated with Green Cosmos organization collect waste materials and plastics that pollute the environment. PHOTO/Martin Mulenga.

A Zambian newsletter, Zambia Tourism, highlights the importance of River Kafue and River Luangwa, as the lifeblood of the Kafue and Luangwa National Parks, teeming with hippopotamuses, water birds, crocodiles, and plains game coming to drink.

Taking responsibility

With villagers on the brink of contracting waterborne diseases, and animal and plant life threatened, Scholar Media Africa sought to understand the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in addressing environmental degradation in Zambia.

Martin Mulenga, Founder and CEO of Green Cosmos, says environmental intolerance in Zambia is wanting, as both government and citizens press the ‘wait and see’ button. 

Fresh from Italy’s Pontifical University of Antoniunum, Mulenga felt the stench and filth of Lusaka’s streets, with regrets convinced that someone was sleeping on the job.

Martin Mulenga, right, CEO of Green Cosmos attending the Global Youth Climate Summit in Tanzania. He says pollution wastes the continent. PHOTO/Martin Mulenga.

“The silence of critical players in the environment sector worried me. The streets of Lusaka were choking with plastics and paper bags, and I thought the mess embarrassed even the local authorities. 

Nonetheless, something had to be done, and it was to be done fast,” Mulenga told Scholar Media Africa, in an exclusive interview.

Through the efforts of Nicholas Chileshe, a lecturer at Cavendish University, Zambia, Mulenga founded Green Cosmos, a non-governmental entity, with a strong commitment to raising environmental awareness and climate change. 

He was able to mobilize youths who have voluntarily combed the streets of Zambia, time and again picking all sorts of litter.

“We had been collecting garbage and clearing drainages, in central business areas of Lusaka City until January 2023, when we received a recommendation and recognition agreement by the Ministry of Green Economy. 

Green Cosmos was later duly registered by the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services in March 2023,” he said.

Supporting initiatives

The ‘Keep Lusaka Clean and Green’ campaign by Green Cosmos has allowed youths and other stakeholders to engage in environmental protection and awareness, waste management, public and private training, and afforestation. 

According to Mulenga, protecting water sources is not a walk in the path.

Youths pour into the streets during the Environment Protection Awareness campaign in Kitwe town, Zambia. PHOTO/Martin Mulenga.

He says the government must invest in the initiative through supporting environmental activities, opening up the country for Non-Governmental Organizations’ operations, and integrating climate change into school curriculum.

Mulenga says due to lack of capacity and resources, Zambia Environment Management Authority (ZEMA), is unable to carry out regular monitoring of effluent discharge license holders. 

ZEMA’s operations, staff, and administration costs, he says, are supported through a government grant, which has been below the institutional budget.

According to him, the operations of Non-Governmental Organizations are treated with suspicion, derailing collective involvement across the nation. 

Despite drawing its membership from a diverse professional background, Green Cosmos continues to undergo challenges in the wake of looming climate change threats.

Tapping into the wisdom of ethics and philosophy, environmental health technologists, public health technologists, lecturers, accountants, and law practitioners, the organization remains committed to its moral obligation of protecting the environment, so that it remains sustainable for both the present and future generations.

Nicholas Chileshe, Chief Finance Director at Green Cosmos, says human activity is the largest cause of pollution in rivers and lakes. Polluted water, he asserts, is highly contagious to humans, and pose a lot of health-related challenges.

Health risks

“Drinking of untreated water causes the body to react immediately. You will get a stomach ache, and waterborne diseases account to the deaths of at least 3.5 million people in the continent every year. 

Diseases such as typhoid, cholera, paratyphoid fever, dysentery, and amoebiasis, should not be causing trouble to Africa, a continent that prides on both natural and human resources,” says Chileshe.

He says Green Cosmos has collaborated with the Office of the Vice President of Zambia, the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, and regional county councils to enlighten communities on the effects of polluting the environment. 

Chileshe agrees that the government should create enough space for non-governmental organizations, in order to defeat the environmental mess.

“Green Cosmos has received a lot of positive feedback from a number of agencies and other international humanitarian organizations. 

In June 2023, at the COMESA Summit of the Heads of States, the organization was recognized as one of the forward-looking NGO’s, passionate about defeating pollution and keen on realizing a green continent,” he adds. 

Water polluted by plastics and other waste materials. Most water sources in Africa cannot support life due to pollution PHOTO/Fair Planet.

He says Green Cosmos is focused on fostering green intergenerational equity through the promotion of green projects and public sensitization. 

“As a Non-Governmental Organization, we encourage and participate in sustainable living workshops, collaborations with local businesses, recycling programs, community clean up events, and plastic pollution sensitizations,” adds Chileshe.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people in the African region, and the situation continues to worsen due to factors such as pollution, population growth and climate change.

In a 2022 study conducted on behalf of the United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), researchers found that only 13 out of 54 countries reached a modest level of water safety, with Egypt, Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius and Tunisia, coming top in the finding.

It is this worrying trend of water insecurity and safety that has caught the attention of Mulenga and his team of environmental and climate actors. 

Through a coordinated environmental campaign, he believes the streets of Africa can be cleared of plastic waste, which have shortened many lives.

Water shortages, occasioned by pollution, have jeopardized ecosystems and contributed to a loss in biodiversity. Africa is the home to the world’s freshwater ecosystems. 

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Lake Turkana, in Kenya, for instance, is the world’s largest desert lake, while Lake Malawi is home to the richest freshwater fish fauna in the world. If not addressed, water scarcity and insecurity will disrupt and possibly terminate freshwater and marine ecosystems in Africa.

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Mr. Misori holds a Bachelor's degree in Education Arts, English and English literature from Mount Kenya University. He is the author of the book ''Village Under Siege'', a book reviewer, and a science journalist passionate about environment, health, climate change, education and agriculture. His email address is misori.village@gmail.com

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