The Chicamba Dam in north-west Mozambique is critical to the water supply of three large cities. Fed by the Muene River, it also provides a livelihood for hundreds of fishermen as well as the small industries that support the local tourists that flock to the dam when it is full. But the river and dam have become increasingly polluted, with locals pointing the finger at the source of the river: the Zimbabwean city of Mutare some 50-kilometres away to the west.
A dumpsite in Mutare’s Nyakamete industrial area sits on the spot where the Muene starts. Waste from industries, clinics and homes in Mutare gets dumped at the site. The up to 50° heat in that city helps break down and decompose the waste, so chemicals and other liquids seep into the river. By the time it reaches Chicamba Dam, it is so polluted that locals blame it for cholera outbreaks and sudden deaths in the fish population.
Authorities in Mozambique’s Manica province, which contains the dam, set up a task force in 2009 to investigate the cause of the cholera and other water-related health problems. It concluded that Mutare’s dumpsite was to blame, and asked that city to fix the problem. Mutare’s city council said it didn’t have the money to find another way to dispose of the problem, so effectively ignored the complaints.