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Enduring Mudi River’s pungent smell for a living

Written by  Solister Mogha
Alex Kaliwu (left) washing second hand shoes in Mudi River - Pic by Solister Mogha Alex Kaliwu (left) washing second hand shoes in Mudi River - Pic by Solister Mogha

Blantyre, September 7, 2018: Everyday people from different parts of commercial City of Blantyre gather on Mudi River banks to do business.

Some sell clothes and hardware while others are in restaurant, hair dressing and cosmetics business. All these people have one common goal – to make money and, probably, become multimillionaires one day.

Just like in any other business, these people, too, are subjected to pressure and many challenges.

But there is one thing they do not know or have given a blind eye to. If not addressed, it may slowly kill them or affect their health for the rest of their lives.

For the long hours they conduct their businesses, the traders are subjected to a bad smell from the heavily polluted river.

Alex Kaliwu, 39, who sells second hand shoes right at the edge of the foot bridge on the river near Blantyre Main Market, is one of those exposed to the health hazard.

Unlike others, Kaliwu is the most affected because he directly inhales air full of the pungent smell from the river.

But he is unmoved. His focus is on making money and bringing food to his home.

“The bad smell is part of life and I’m used to it.

“Just like everybody else here, I consider the situation as normal and I feel like I am breathing clean air,” Kaliwu says.

He adds that he cannot leave the place because it is strategic for his business.

“Many people buy from me as they cross this bridge daily. I make huge amounts of money, enough to take care of my family’s daily needs,” he says.

Asked if he knows the consequences of inhaling the polluted air, Kaliwu argues that his concern is making money.

“Why should I bother when I am able to feed my family with the money I make out of this place?

“Would it be good to be at a place without bad smell and not make any money?” he says.

Lillian Banda is one of the women who sell clothes along the river. Just like Kaliwu, Banda says all she is obsessed with is to earn money.

She says she does not mind the health hazards associated with inhaling the polluted air.

“We are accustomed to the smell and we even eat food right here,” Banda says.

A medical journal published by Iran’s Mashhad University of Medical Sciences says pollution is a major concern for the civilized world which has a serious toxicological impact on humans and the environment.

The journal says prolonged exposure to polluted air causes respiratory, heart, eye and skin diseases including cancer.

“Air pollution is…the major environmental risk factor in the incidence and progression of diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, autism, foetal growth and low birth weight,” reads part of the journal.

It further says exposure to polluted air leads to diseases of the brain resulting in mental illness.

Malawi just like any other country in the world is facing serious problems of air pollution. The countries have since agreed to contain air pollution and advocate for green houses to purify the ozone.

Mudi River at the heart of commercial city of Blantyre is polluted by some sewer systems and produces bad smell that sometimes spreads to as far as five kilometers away.

Some people also dump refuse including dead animals such as dogs into the river.

Apart from inhaling the bad air from the river, other people use its water for washing clothes and watering flowers.

Blantyre District Environmental Health Officer Penjani Chunda acknowledges that pollutants are a health hazard to human beings.

But he says his office is doing something to protect people doing business along the Mudi River.

Chunda says, among others, the district health office has been conducting awareness meetings to caution people on the dangers of staying close to polluted areas.

“The smell coming from Mudi River is obnoxious to people and staying along it may lead to allergic reactions and also trigger some respiratory tract infections such as asthma, bronchitis and other lung diseases.

“Health education on the dangers of polluted air has been given by health surveillance assistants and such talk also covers the dangers of using polluted water sources,” Chunda says.

He adds that through his office, Blantyre city and district councils were formulating bylaws that would help in dealing with pollution in general.

“As one way of arresting the problem, we will continue with sensitisation campaigns and also ensure that the bylaws being formulated are enforced,” Chunda says.

But Kaliwu and Banda do not believe in relocating to somewhere where they could breathe clean air for fear of losing out on their businesses.

Instead, they appeal to authorities to clean the river and stop people from disposing of wastes into it.

“We cannot move out of this place. The city council should encourage residents on proper waste management and ensure that companies do not pour oily substances and other stuff into the river,” Kaliwu says.


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