Sewer water highly discouraged for vegetable irrigation

Over the years urban farming has been sustaining several families, with Bulawayo being among areas that benefits immensely from the practice. With the passing of time, the adoption of sewer water has since intensified.

By Minenhle Moyo

Sewer water is now an alternative source to plants that are grown in community gardens or urban farms that have improved the food security for middle income families.

Use of sewerage water has been mostly attributed to sporadic water shortages in the city, as Bulawayo is currently on a 144-hour water shedding schedule. However, this norm is slowly putting people’s lives at risk of contracting diseases.

According to Environmental Health Officers, watering vegetables with sewer water is not recommended as there is high percentage of E. Coli bacteria which causes diarrheal diseases.

Speaking to Infocus News, Nonhlanhla Yalala, a Bulawayo based Environmental Officer said the bacteria that is contained in sewer water is prone to cause gastrointestinal diseases.

“Watering vegetables using sewer water was recommended long back. But recent studies have shown that this is no longer advised because of bacteria that is now found in sewer water. Studies that were done in Umguza indicated that there were high levels of E. Coli present in sewer water.

“If consumed these can cause excessive Gastrointestinal diseases with might contribute to the mortality rate,” she said.

Yalala added: “The incubation period if one consumes any food or water contaminated with bacteria is between 6 and 24 hours. This differs with people, however, if you suspect that you have consumed any food that is contaminated with bacteria, quickly seek medical attention because the effects can be tragic.”

Several residents actively involved in urban farming mentioned preference of raw untreated water citing higher concentration of nutrients.

Siphilisile Ndlovu from Mpopoma suburb who is a vegetable farmer at an area near a sewerage pipe said she preferred sewer water as she did not have to incur the cost of buying fertilizers to increase yields.

“Farming near a place with running sewerage water has proven its profitability. I hardly have to buy supplements like fertilizers or other chemicals to ensure that my vegetables are healthy,” she said.

A lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in the Environmental Health Department, Wilfred Nunu said raw water was tainted with substances such as mercury among others which might cause communicable diseases such as diarrhea.

He said using waste water to irrigate vegetables was not safe as people did not know the amount of pollutants and industrial waste present in the water.

“Using raw water to irrigate vegetables is not safe at all as individuals who practice this do not have knowledge of the amount of pollutants present in the water. I am not saying that those who know the amount of pollution present in water can use it because raw water is not safe to consume.”

“You will find out that there are some vegetables such as lettuce that are eaten raw and some will not even wash such vegetables. So, use of raw water to irrigate gardens is highly discouraged.”

Bulawayo residents have been up in arms with the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) following its proposal to recommission Khami dam as another source of potable water for the City. Residents argue that the Bulawayo City Council is financially incapacitated to undergo the sewer treatments works to ensure that water is safe for consumption.


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