IMPALILA - Some operators of riverboats catering for upmarket, high-heeled tourists flocking to the breathtaking Impalila Island at the far eastern tip of Namibia stand accused of wantonly dumping human waste into the Chobe and Zambezi rivers, posing an environmental disaster to fauna and flora.
Apart from houseboats, lodge owners also stand accused of polluting the rivers at Impalila Island.
The culprits not only endanger the flora and fauna from which they mint their fortunes but they also foul the drinking water of the residents of the pristine island who rely on this water for drinking, cooking, washing and fishing, among numerous domestic uses as they do not have access to tap water.
“The situation is really bad. I am a fisherman and on several occasions I ended up catching toilet paper in my net, it is a serious health hazard,” lamented Brian Simataa a resident of the remote island.
Residents state that polluting of channels connecting to the Zambezi and Chobe rivers continues unabated despite several complaints from community members.
Houseboat owners in particular stand accused of flushing raw sewerage into the water channels around the island at will without minding the hazardous health risks such irresponsible acts pose to residents.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism stated they have on countless occasions requested lodge and houseboat owners operating within the island to submit environmental management plans (EMPs) stipulating how they manage both solid and sewerage waste within the island, but to date they have not complied with this statutory request.
During a meeting which was held with Impalila residents last week, officials warned houseboat and lodge owners to refrain from polluting the water and the environment or face the long arm of the law.
The business owners were given until October 5 to submit their EMPs, failure of which they could face hefty fines of N$500,000 or worse have their tourism businesses closed.
“You are given two months to comply with the order, as this has been going on for far too long,” warned Damien Nchindo from the environment ministry. Nchindo explained it is only after business personnel have submitted EMPs explaining how they will be managing the waste that they can be issued with a clearance certificate.
He however revealed that so far, most businesses around the island do not have an environmental clearance certificate and as a result they have just been disposing waste in non-designated areas.
He stated there is also no proper designated area for solid waste dumping in the island and in turn lodge owners are just dumping solid waste when they see it necessary to do so.
Business personnel who were present at the meeting defended themselves, stating the unavailability of designated dumping areas is compelling them to dump untreated sewerage waste into the rivers.
“I really feel embarrassed that my lodges continue polluting the environment, and we have been desperate for a solution for far too long, but at the moment we have no choice,” said Brett McDonald of Flame of Africa who is running two lodges on Impalila Island.
Nchindo however explained to them that it is their responsibility as business practitioners to liaise with the community to identify places suitable for the ideal disposal of human waste, and several procedures will then be followed for such sites to be approved. In addition to several lodges within Impalila, there are about six houseboats operating on the Chobe and Zambezi rivers, and all of them are suspected to be disposing sewerage into the rivers.
In late 2006 fishing in Zambezi Region was provisionally closed after high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria were detected in the river and its tributaries. It was suspected at the time that the presence of E-coli and salmonella bacteria in the water might have been due to leakages from sewerage systems, especially from communities living along the river and around its channels.
At the time when the bacteria were detected the region had to do without freshwater fish such as Zambezi bream, tiger fish and others that over the years have provided people with a steady source of cheap protein. It now appears that history might repeat itself if the current trend of disposing sewerage in the rivers continues, which in future might just turn rivers into recreation facilities without any fish at all.