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BOTSWANA: Capital Upgrade for City’s Sewers

Alma Balopi

GABORONE, Mar 30 2011 (IPS) - The evidence of Gaborone’s inadequate sewerage system hangs in the air over the Botswana capital’s low income area. Pit latrines dominate, and residents complain that the city doesn’t empty them frequently enough. But the end may be in sight.

There are simply no sewers in large parts of Gaborone’s low income areas. The city – which had fewer than 4,000 people at independence in 1966 – quickly lost the race to expand its sewerage infrastructure as fast as the city grew.

Walking in the location now, a heavy smell of pit latrines lingers, dirty water flows in the streets where the children are playing, and overflowing dustbins line the streets. Sludge removal of pit latrines would normally need to be done every two to five years, but in overcrowded sections of Gaborone, many pits should really be emptied much more frequently.

The mayor of Gaborone, Veronica Lesole, admits that sanitation in the areas served by the Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA) leaves much to be desired, but she has complained in the past that residents are partly to blame for poor services.

“They are the ones who throw in objects like metal and blankets in the pit latrines which end up blocking up pipes and damaging vacuum tankers as they vacuum the toilets,” she told Mmegi Newspaper last year. “The dirty water flows from the pit latrines as a result of their actions.”

Investing in infrastructure

But the authorities confronting the problem head on, and much of the work for an upgrade and extension of the sewerage system to cover low income areas has already been completed.

The sewerage expansion is an initiative of the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT) through the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control. It was launched two years ago with the intent of improving sanitation for households and businesses in and around the capital.

The environment minister, Onkokame Mokaila, said the expansion would reduce the risk of diseases related to poor sanitation and environmental pollution.

Mokaila added that fast-growing industries had exacerbated the situation. With more than 220,000 people living in Gaborone and roughly another 120,000 in the surrounding areas of Mogoditshane, Tlokweng and Phakalane, the volume of sewage has exceeded the city’s capacity to treat it, even before new households are added to the system.

The current treatment plant has a capacity of 40 megalitres per day; the plan is to expand this to 65 megalitres immediately towards an eventual goal of 90 megalitres.

The government has demonstrated its commitment to rectifying the situation by allowing the ministry to exceed its initial budget, with the total cost of the expansion now expected to be well over 150 million dollars. This will cover construction of a network of sewer pipes in the main SHHA areas, as well as expansion of primary sewer pipes and sewerage pump lifting stations.

Residents welcome plans

“Companies are in the field working on this project which is expected to be completed by March 2012,” says Ephraim Mabengano, a councillor in the Segoditshane area of the city.

Mabenango is enthusiastic but cautious. As many of his constituents are unemployed or self-employed in the informal sector, they may not be able to afford to connect their homes to a centralised sewerage system.

“Most of them are poor and there has been no mention by government on how they would assist such people’s households to be connected to the sewerage lines,” he says.

Residents can hardly wait. Seibatsu Chule, who lives in the oldest low-income location in Gaborone, Old Naledi, people had long ago given up hope that government would improve their situation.

“But now that ray of hope has been brought back with all the construction that is going on to upgrade the sewerage system in this area. Our lives will be improved – relieved not only from the smell, but from the diseases that come with poor sanitation,” she said.

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