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Army Called In To Help Douse ‘Massive’ Harare Dump Fire

Authorities in Harare say they’ve called on the army and police to help tame a massive fire at a big dumpsite that’s caused a pall of smoke to settle over parts of the capital.

The fire broke out on Sunday, raising fears of environmental damage and long-term effects on residents’ health.

In a statement, the City of Harare said buses should not drive near the dump, which is in northern Harare, and people living near the site “should keep their windows closed”.

How did it start?

Nobody’s sure. It seems to have been during Sunday night. Social media footage from Monday showed a huge amount of smoke billowing out from a large area.

Apparently the rubbish is mainly plastic bags, polystyrene containers (the sort you get when you buy vegetables and fresh fruit in supermarkets) and other household waste.

On Tuesday the smoke reached as far as Westgate suburb, around 10km away, commuters said.

Can’t fire fighters just spray water on it?

Two water bowsers have been donated, according to the City of Harare. Harare (and Bulawayo and other cities) face worsening water shortages. There are some fears that while water may douse flames on the surface, fire may continue to burn underneath (depending on how “deep” the rubbish is). Also, contaminated water will then run down to poison the ground water. The dump is sited near a vlei, a valuable water source.

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Aren’t there people who basically live at the dump?

Yes. There are a number of people who sort through the rubbish to see if there is anything they can salvage for sale to re-cyclers. Unconfirmed reports say that some of their makeshift shelters have already burned down.

Who’s to blame?

Again, not clear. Could it have spontaneously combusted, given the heat and the fact that some types of decomposing rubbish emit methane? Or was it arson, as is believed to have been the case in 2013, when the fire burned for at least four days.

What kind of effect is this going to have on residents’ health?

There are worries about carcinogenic substances being released into the atmosphere.

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