Uniting around hygiene issue

The Sunday Mail

Editorial Comment 

As we move towards sustainable environment management and waste disposal systems, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared the first Friday of each month “National Environment Cleaning Day”.

From now on, all Zimbabweans are asked to dedicate just two hours of their precious time to clean their environs on this day.

It might have taken a little nudge from the First Citizen of this country, but the motivation to keep the environment clean should actually come from every individual. Keeping the environment clean and hygienic is everyone’s responsibility. It is a matter of attitude and responsibility.

The theme “Zero tolerance to litter: My environment, my pride” aptly captures the spirit that should drive this noble initiative. In as much as it is about our collective environment, all the benefits will be felt at an individual level by every citizen.

After all, cleanliness is near to godliness. Firstly, maintaining cleanliness at an individual level will lead us towards becoming a better society from the simple fact of feeling good about where one lives.

With diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera and typhoid continuing to ravage the nation, the National Environment Cleaning Day was long overdue.

Harare’s high-density suburbs have been the epicentre of the recent cholera outbreak.

Contaminated underground water, accessed through boreholes dotted around the suburbs, was identified as the cause. Urban centres across Zimbabwe generate about 165 million tonnes of waste every year, the bulk of which ends up in open illegal dump sites, urban streams and wetlands.

Because our local authorities have serious challenges in delivering potable water, that dirt ends up in our taps.

In essence, we are choking on our own dirt, our own irresponsibility and our own slovenliness!

Ironically, there is immense business and energy potential in waste and environmental management even as we cry about economic hardships, lack of access to electricity, and living in dirty towns and cities.

Zimbabwe is sitting on gold and we need to be innovative and roll-out ways of extracting value from waste.

Sound management of chemical waste, solid waste as well as electronic and plastic waste needs to be put in place for the protection of human health, flora and fauna.

While we are at it, another pressing issue that needs to be urgently dealt with is Zimbabwe’s love for plastic materials, which are the world’s biggest pollutants.

Wholesalers and retailers need to follow international trends and start using biodegradable paper for packaging, which has a lower carbon impact and has improved recyclability.

Largely due to plastic pollution, the cities’ blocked drainage systems are now an albatross around our necks.

Ordinarily, rain water is supposed to come and wash the cities clean.

However, as it stands most cities no longer have any drainage systems to talk about as garbage has been allowed to collect in the drains beneath our streets.

Besides being aesthetically unpleasant, the resultant swampy pools are also breeding grounds for various diseases, including cholera and malaria.

These are the pressures that make improved public sanitation urgent.

All of this obviously, has a bearing on our health delivery system, which is already choking from underfunding.

Cleaning up the environment will as a happy consequence trim the country’s health bill, with funds being diverted towards investment.

Joining hands to clean Zimbabwe is not solely about the physical environment, it has got great chances of yielding significant psychological and social effects.

This is particularly important in the Second Republic as we find each other and build the Zimbabwe that we want.

Being a politically polarised nation, ours has not been an easy journey, especially after lives were lost in the post-election violence that broke out as the opposition demanded that their preferred candidate be declared the winner of the Presidential poll.

There is an urgent need to cement the cracks before they become wider. The National Environment Cleaning Day gives us that opportunity.

The concept is rooted in nationhood; with the same effect as the national flag or national anthem in rallying everyone around a common cause.

It allows people from all walks of life to take off their political and whatever other straitjackets and put on one robe, the robe that defines us all Zimbabweans.

A clean Zimbabwe, achieved through working together in our communities, will build national pride and oneness of purpose. Even better, increased attention to the need for a clean physical environment should spur people to want to also live in a clean economic environment.

There is a close correlation between personal cleanliness and personal morality.

Let us wash away all dirt and grime and cleanse our economy of corruption.

For years now, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has been running a clean-up campaign in that country, and the initiative has proved to be quite popular in a country that as recently as 1994 was the scene of a horrible genocide.

And it is also quite interesting that Rwanda is ranked amongst Africa’s least corrupt nations.

A person who loves his or her country enough to keep it clean will love it enough to work hard and work honestly.