The hidden dangers lurking Mzuzu’s leisure scenes – Capital Radio Malawi
17 July, 2024

The hidden dangers lurking Mzuzu’s leisure scenes

Unhygienic urinals at one of the drinking joints

In Mzuzu City, nestled in the Old Town near the once-famous Mataifa market, is a bustling area of drinking establishments that attracts both local fun-loving residents and visitors who are eager to experience twenty-four hours of non-stop entertainment.

This area is arguably the heart of the city’s nightlife and leisure. Popular spots such as Paris Night Club, Lisbon, Wazilala, and Dubai, among others, fill the zone. Whether during the week or on weekends, it is always bustling with hundreds of fun seekers.

Here, patrons enjoy the full spectrum of entertainment that includes a wide selection of both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, an array of dishes featuring all kinds of meat, and the chance to listen to lively music that keeps the party going all night.

However, beneath the excitement, there is a hidden crisis that threatens public health and safety. The bars and nightclubs, popular socializing and entertainment spots in the area, are plagued by poor sanitation conditions.

Many of the leisure centers fall short of recommended public sanitation and hygiene standards. Proper sanitation practices for public places require restrooms equipped with soap and handwashing facilities and a commitment to maintaining cleanliness and hygiene.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor sanitation is linked to the transmission of diarrheal diseases such as cholera and dysentery, typhoid, and intestinal worm infections.

Yet, many high-traffic spots in Mzuzu City’s Old Town lack improved sanitary facilities. Few places have toilets, some only have urinals, and even fewer have running water. The available facilities here, potentially promote transmission of germs that can cause diseases.

The situation is unpleasant in the limited places with basic sanitation facilities. Oftentimes, they are left unclean, emitting foul odors that drive patrons to relieve themselves in open spaces outside, making the area a high-risk zone for the transmission of diarrheal diseases.

“Without mincing word, sanitation conditions here are a mess,” Suzgo Manda, who frequents the area tells Capital FM. “Many spots do not have basic facilities like toilets such that people just urinate everywhere. For those that have basic facilities, they are not fit for one to use.”

He adds; “I would have loved if all spots have improved sanitary facilities, and for those dirty toilets in some spots, owners must put in place measures to ensure that they are cleaned regularly. Otherwise, as things are, our lives are at risk.”

Another patron, George Kaseka, echoes Manda’s concerns. Kaseka expresses worry that bar owners are not prioritizing solving the problem and authorities are not taking action to enforce proper sanitation and hygiene standards, despite knowing the risks involved.

“Authorities must be serious in ensuring that these places have basic sanitary facilities. They need to deal with all operators whose drinking spots are not adhering to minimum sanitary standards,” Kaseka says.

The issue of poor sanitation in Mzuzu is not only confined to popular leisure centers in Old Town. Many drinking spots in various townships such as Chibanja, Chibavi, Mchengautuba, and others face similar conditions and rely on makeshift facilities.

“There is a growing need to address issues of sanitation in drinking joints because these are places that are patronized by hundreds of people and the current situation is putting lives of these individuals at risk. It is a health crisis in waiting,” Christopher Nyirenda, a patron we met at a drinking spot in Chibanja Township says.

The situation is dire in the township establishments as behind some of these venues, are residential houses.

“The issue of sanitation in these spots surrounding our houses is of great concern. You see many of these spots do not have proper toilets and most of the time you see drunkards urinating everywhere. This situation is not good,” Emily Chavula, who lives close to a drinking spot in Chibavi shares her concerns.

Ironically, while many of Mzuzu City’s leisure points operate without meeting sanitation and hygiene standards, the city council has by-laws, which stipulate sanitation and hygiene requirements for operating drinking spots.

According to the by-laws, drinking joint operators are required to maintain clean and sanitary premises, provide clean separate toilets for each sex, and ensure proper handwashing facilities with soap. These are requirements operators have to meet even before they are issued operational licenses.

Premises contravening the set rules are required to be closed upon recommendations from the city’s Liquor Board, comprising bar owners, political parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the secretariat, and other stakeholders.

To enforce the regulations, the city council has a team of inspectors who monitor compliance. Premises contravening the set rules are required to be closed upon recommendations from the city’s Liquor Board, comprising bar owners, political parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the secretariat, and other stakeholders.

Nevertheless, numerous drinking spots continue operating despite their standards warranting closure.

“It’s not like city authorities are not aware of these conditions. They know but choose not to act,” Suzgo Manda, a concerned patron says, alleging that inspectors might be accepting bribes to overlook violations.

Mzuzu City Council (MCC) Environmental Health Officer Lloyd Gomani, however, dismisses the allegations and contends that the council is doing its best to enforce acceptable standards such that they are planning to close non-compliant spots.

“The council is not failing to do the enforcement. We had a Liquor Board meeting about two weeks ago where we agreed to shut down several premises that do not have these facilities in place. We have a list of more than 15 premises that will be closed but I cannot mention the names,” Gomani says.

According to Gomani, aside from enforcing the laws, they are also raising awareness as they believe this is another way of ensuring compliance.

“We also use different mechanisms to make sure that we reach out to people in terms of awareness. We engage the bar owners association together with political leaders as well as the public. This is because we understand that when it comes to issues of enforcement, we cannot just leave it to the city council,” he says.

However, Gomani acknowledges that despite their efforts, they are encountering various challenges, including financial constraints, which hinder their ability to effectively enforce the laws.

“You are aware that city councils are funded by themselves, we have to raise our revenue for salaries and daily operations. But. If you look at issues of enforcement like the closure of these premises, it needs the involvement of the police whom we expect would request allowances,” Gomani says.

“On top of that, we have to look at mobility that is fuel and vehicles. So, because of financial constraints, we end up failing to do some of the operations that we are mandated to be doing as the council,” he adds.

Commenting on the issue, Water and Environmental Sanitation Network (WESNET) Executive Director Willies Mwandira says it is unfortunate to hear of such experiences happening within a city.

“It is very unfortunate that within a city in Malawi, there are some joints where owners do not have adequate sanitary facilities. It is really sad because as a country, we are trying hard to achieve sanitation goals. As the country is doing this, we expect business people to ensure that they have adequate sanitary facilities at their premises,” Mwandira says.

Mwandira calls for authorities to be strict in enforcing the laws as the country fights hard to achieve goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, which is just a few years ahead.

“I think Government through the councils should ensure that the by-laws that are there work or those people who are not following, we expect the city authorities to even bar those businesses from operating. Otherwise, these businesses can be a source of diseases in the cities of Malawi,” Mwandira emphasizes.

On his part, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Expert Save Kumwenda also emphasizes the need for strict enforcement targeting not just drinking joints but other public places like restaurants.

According to Kumwenda failure to ensure that public premises adhere to acceptance sanitation standards would potentially affect the country’s efforts to achieve a middle-income country by 2063 as realizing this dream requires healthy people.

“The 2063 goals, we are looking at transforming Malawi, and for us to achieve that we need to have healthy people. You are talking about toilets in public places, we need to make sure that every public facility has adequate toilets before they open their businesses,” Kumwenda says.

“But also, because those might break down, they need to be inspected regularly. So, there is a need for enforcement that should go into every corner of our cities because if we do not do this, we are putting people’s lives at risk,” he adds.

As a United Nations member state, Malawi must meet SDG 6 by 2030 whose goal is to ensure access to safe water sources and sanitation for all. The country also recognizes the importance of promoting sanitation highlighting it in its development goals.

For example, the MW2063 Mid-term Implementation Plan MIP-1 aspires to achieve access to safe water for everyone, everywhere, have access to improved sanitation services, and have access to improved hygiene services by 2030.

WHO refers to sanitation as the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faeces. Inadequate sanitation is a major cause of diseases worldwide and improving sanitation is known to have a significant beneficial impact both in households and across communities.

Not long ago, Malawi was grappling to contain the spread of Cholera, which hit the country.

Unless stringent measures are taken, current sanitation conditions in numerous drinking spots in Mzuzu, provide a breeding ground for future outbreaks. It is a bomb, timed, and ready to explode.

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