A pile of old, rusty and broken sewer pipes lay above ground for the first time in so many years. Four boys sit atop the pile unperturbed, chewing sugarcane.
Their act is a symbolic triumph of human survival from the threat of environmental hazard posed by the pipes in years gone by.
“The pipes were harmful when they were underground, not now,” one of the boys said.
For over 23 years, these pipes have been popping out a foul smell to a community near Lumbadzi Trading Centre, just a few kilometres away from Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
38-year-old Dickson Msefula is a resident at the place and his family has endured the sickening smell from the broken sewer pipes.
“It was hell on earth. God knows why we are still alive,” said Msefula who comes from Kubango Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkukula in Dowa district.
We have gone through the test of times, with continuous outbreaks of water borne diseases that have claimed innocent lives,” he said.
For so long, this place has been a dump site for refuse from Airport Development Limited (ADL) houses in Lumbadzi. But it was the dripping of raw sewage from pipes passing through Lumbadzi Trading Centre that caused hell to people.
The broken pipes transported the waste from the houses to a treatment area located down the trading centre.
Msefula said there was over pollution in the place through the repulsive smell from the sewage.
“The pipes were worn out. They could not carry the sewage direct to the sewer treatment and dripped down most of it in the river and the gardens near-by,” he said.
Msefula has lived at this place since 1980. For someone whose three children were born and raised in this environment, he knows the constant threats and risks of living under such an environment.
“We have lived through frequent attacks of waterborne diseases like dysentery and diarrhea. My children have often been victims of these diseases,” he said.
The only consolation people got from the dripping sewage is the fertility it provided to the land for growing their vegetables.
Msefula confessed that he earns a living through selling vegetables from his small garden along the Lumbadzi River, which is also polluted by the sewerage waste.
But he was quick to point out that nothing beats quality life free from environmental and health hazards. The vegetables were a health risk too because they were watered by the polluted water from the river.
“Apparently, our vegetables went on affecting people out there. Those who were careless in preparing their vegetables by not washing them thoroughly were the most hit.”
Although their gardens were affected by the pollution, people could not abandon them because they had no other source of livelihood.
“People had to take risks and that included drawing water from wells dug in this land for home use,” he said.
34-year-old Teresa Chimwaza plies her tomato business along the Lumbadzi River, just near the bridge, a few metres from the trading centre.
With her eight-month baby at the back and shielding her from strong beams of sunlight, she said doing business at the area was horrible.
“For years we lived with this bad smell, but we continued operating from this place because it is a centre point of our business,” said Chimwaza who lives in Gwileni Village, T/A Nkukula in Lilongwe
But the environmental and health threat posed by the sewer pipes was finally neutralized after 23 years of tormenting people in this place.
All credit goes to government for finally rehabilitating the sewerage system by replacing the broken sewer pipes with new ones.
Chimwaza is so grateful.
“We can now eat our food right here. The smell is gone and we have a breeze of fresh air around us,” she said.
The rehabilitation of system has been done with financial resources from Phase 3 of the 2016/2017 Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF).
Muhlabase Mughogho is spokesperson for Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. She said the situation in Lumbadzi was getting out of hand and the ministry was receiving numerous complaints from authorities in the area calling for maintenance of the sewerage system.
“Cities and rural areas need good services that should protect their health and well-being. The situation in Lumbadzi was something that gave the ministry sleepless nights and we made a commitment to change the sewer pipes long time ago,” Mughogho said.
She said the project delayed because it needed enough resources and durable materials to overhaul the whole pipeline system, which is 1.5 kilometers from the ADL housing to the treatment area.
“The pipes have been in service for a long time. There are not just mere pipes, their replacement needed something that is durable and of high quality so that it can serve the people for many years to come,” Mughogho said.
Sewage engineer for Lilongwe City Council Phyllis Mkwezalamba said the council made sure that the work was done by professionals that saw Sawa Group of Companies winning the project.
He said the cost of the work is K213 million and the council is happy that now the problem is over.
“As a council, we can now rest and allow people enjoy their life,” Mkwezalamba said.
The new sewer pipelines bring to an end the leakages in people’s gardens and disposal in the Lumbadzi River and that the bad smell that was hovering around the area is completely gone.
People in the area are now guaranteed a normal and healthy life after 23 years of pumping their lungs with polluted air from this surrounding.