Uproar Over Thamalakane Sewage Pipeline

Date:

  • Sewage pipeline constructed along Thamalakane River and flood plains
  • Environmentalists caution sewage project threatens the river’s eco system
  • Questions raised on whether rigorous EIA’s was conducted
  • Concern that it may be impossible to mitigate the impacts of the sewage
  • DEA, ministry yet to respond to this publication’s questionnaires

Construction equipment have recently been busy with excavation and cutting down of trees along the Thamalakane river as part of the Maun Water Supply Sanitation Project and here specifically to construct a sewage pipeline, that runs along the river and in some places in flood plains.

The project, according to environmentalists, is a recipe for disaster as it threatens the very fabric of the delicate ecosystem of Thamalakane.

This as it is common knowledge that untreated waste is one of the major causes of water pollution world over, and once this vile brew enters a water body like a River, there is little that can be done to stop the impact.

The Ngami Times has been following the developments along the river, and the scenes there are anything but good. The stretch from the BDF camp, past the Big Tree to the Maun Bridge the pipeline has been completed – and in some places it runs on the river bank while at others it runs right on the river bed and flood plains where when floods are good, they get covered under water.

While the project to improve the Maun water supply and sanitation related services has been welcomed as a positive development, environmentalists, tour operators and residents have cautioned it should not leave damage to the environment. This is particularly to the Thamalakane River – sensitive ecosystem that is a source of livelihood for the community, agriculture businesses and the tourism industry.

It has also become apparent that the pipeline is meant to discharge sewage to the ponds and treatment plants on the outskirts of the town.

“Residents and environmentalists have raised concerns over the sewage pipeline running along the river. One wonders how the damage done during excavation will be mitigated. Further, once operational, how will they deal with the leaks that are very common with sewage pipelines?” an environmentalist who preferred anonymity added.

Maybe even more scary is that the Thamalakane River, and unlike others was created by a faultline, which formed as a result of plate movement- and from time to time, there are underground movements along the river that will lead to breakages of the pipeline.

“This means the sewage will flow into the river whenever there are sewage discharges and leaks, whatever the cause – and this will eventually kill the ecosystem – and that will be the end of Thamalakane River as we know it,” said one tour operator.

One environmentalist highlighted that though the authorities may speak to the Environmental Impact Assessment having been done, it is the report that is critical in spelling out how the impacts will be mitigated. He also indicated that mitigating the impacts of sewage on such a sensitive ecosystem will prove near impossible.

In his weekly column in the The Ngami Times, Professor of Tourism Studies at the Okavango Research Institute, Joseph Mbaiwa summed his opinions as such: “While developments projects are critical for the socio-economic development of Maun and Botswana, care should be taken to avoid the destruction of Thamalakane River. Potential impacts that may come from the development projects include: oil spillages into the water especially from the filling station, water pollution underground pipeline in the event of an accident and a general destruction of the aesthetic beauty of the river and its immediate surroundings. In other countries, areas along the river are designated as protected areas and used for recreation gardens, walkways, bicycle cycling and are protected by law.”

Mbaiwa further wondered whether EIAs were done for the developmental projects that are done on the River.

“I am also asking myself whether all these projects underwent a rigorous Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) before they were allowed to kick start. If EIA was done, what is the current level of monitoring. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool used to identify the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project prior to decision-making. It aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape projects to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers.”

In an opinion piece on the project, published elsewhere in this edition, Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) Vice Chairman Lempheditse MC Odumetse indicates that while the water and waste water project aimed at improving waste water management is commendable, there are growing concerns about running sewage pipes in the Thamalakane River. 

He particularly raises some pertinent environmental issues and cautions, and then suggest practical solutions.

“During periods of heavy rainfall, the Thamalakane River can experience significant floods. Installing sewage pipes in flood-prone areas creates immense difficulties in accessing and maintaining the infrastructure effectively. Exploring alternative routes for the sewage pipes, away from flood plains, enables easier maintenance and reduces the risk of accidental leaks into the river. This approach ensures a more sustainable and long-term solution,” he posits.

He also argues that, Thamalakane River plays a critical role in Maun’s ecosystem, providing water for domestic and agricultural purposes. Any potential pollution could have far-reaching consequences on the town’s residents, wildlife, and tourism industry.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which exists to ensure adherence to the environmental requirements before any project is done, was yet to respond to this publication’s questionnaire sent last week. We had laid down a litany of questions with regard to the project, meant to better give a clearer picture on why the project had to done on the river.

Similarly, the ministry of Lands and Water Affairs, the custodian of the project has also not responded to a questionnaire sent on Tuesday last week. While they promised to have responded by Friday last week, their PR Unit this week said the responses were awaiting input of their Permanent Secretary.However, information gathered by The Ngami Times indicates that while the project was at some point halted due to the concerns raised and that there was no permit to continue, the director of DEA the issued another extension, which expired when 30 days lapsed recently, the contractors continued, moved quickly to bury the pipes.

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