Residents are calling for the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to come up with stringent anti-air pollution by-laws that make it an offence to posses wire recovered from burnt tyres. It is hoped that this would curb the widespread practice of burning tyres.
Dealers who sell tyres for use in fence making and to quarry stone blasters would be targeted by the new law and face stiff prison sentences, deterrent fines or both.
The City of Harare has battled in vain for decades to stamp out tyre burning. The burning has been so bad at times that black smoke has engulfed nearby residential areas – with detrimental impact on the health of residents.
Apart from causing smoke pollution, the burning tyres emit dioxins, highly toxic chemicals, which can cause cancer and lead to birth defects. According to EMA, “at one time at least 25% of all public hospital admissions were due to acute respiratory infections.”
It is illegal to burn vehicle tyres, but one can legally possess the burned wires recovered from the tyres. Not only is it difficult to prosecute anyone for burning tyres under the current laws, as they have to be caught in the act of setting them alight, but it can also be dangerous. Residents in high-density areas say they have been accosted and threatened when trying to dissuade the burners.
“They carry out their activities at night and are dangerous if you try to talk them out of their activities,” said a group of women speaking anonymously in Mbare’s Magaba section.
But the tyre-burners say the practice is a symptom of poverty and unemployment, as the metal recovered is only worth around a dollar a kilogramme.
According to Steady Kangata, Publicity and Education Manager at the EMA, “many tyres have to be burned to get a kilogram.” Despite this low rate of return, he said it is obviously worth it to the person who is burning the tyres. But it does come at an enormous cost to the environment and to human health.
Residents believe that if the environmental by-law is effectively enforced, it will help remove the market for the wire.
In neighbourhoods such as Highfield, Mbare and Sunningdale, small-to-medium industries burn thousands of tyres to extract wires for fence making and quarrying.
Environmentalists have also said that government standards are too low and environmental enforcement regulations are too lax as the level of fines is not deterrent enough.
EMA officials, for instance, say that illegally run second-hand tyre dealers, hoping to cash in, are one of the biggest contributors to the environmental blight.
On a recent media tour, EMA inspectors visited the ‘Geneva’ section of Western Triangle, Highfield, adjacent to Willowvale industries, and saw with their own eyes what actually takes place.
“These tyre burners have no license and operate on property not zoned for tyre-related businesses,” said one woman, standing outside her house. “They usually carry out their operations in the evenings or at night,” she complained. “It is one of our major concerns because of the dumping, and the blight that it brings to our neighborhood.”
Similarly in Mbare, many members of the community are concerned after air testing showed the area to be one of the worst polluted.
Evelyn Shamu, who has lived in the capital city’s oldest suburb of Mbare for 31 years, said “There are community spaces in the neighbourhood but there are times when you go there and the playground equipment will be all covered in black.”
As tyres burn, they release compounds similar to coal said an official at Town House. “The EMA needs to change its enforcement and compliance standards,” he said.