By Gregory Gondwe.
Malawi’s Environmental Management Act imposes a number of penalties on those who, deliberately or otherwise, litter in and around urban centers or settlements.
Authorities in town and district assemblies have ratified byelaws in compliances with the environmental affairs department order to observe proper management of refuse in all urban areas.
The law stipulates that one can pay a minimum fine of K20, 000 and maximum fine of K1 million or spend a period of 10 years in jail if found guilty of environmental pollution which include disorderly disposition of refuse.
The biggest challenge faced by City Assemblies, is to deal with Malawi’s 65% urban poverty, which exceeds the 60% share of rural poverty. The result is that most of the urban poor, live in unplanned and un-serviced squatter settlements that are facing serious environmental degradation problems due to increased pressure on resources, human habitat and social and economical infrastructure.
Other problems range from lack of knowledge on ownership of towns by dwellers leading to too much laxity on their involvement in managing refuse, to City Authorities’ economic restrictions, which is aggravated by their lack of commitment on their part. Consequently the trend leads to failure to even properly manage household refuse.
There is very little done to rid homes and towns of rubbish and usually waste disposal of improperly becomes a health hazard and provide a breeding ground for vectors of diseases and it is virtually unsightly.
Most Malawian households especially in peri urban centers use rubbish pits, which are usually dug at background of houses and are turned into the last destination of, refuse collected within the household.
The biggest problem is that the pits become breeding ground for flies and cockroaches, which constantly trouble the homestead. When the situation becomes unbearable the rubbish in the pit is burnt or buried with soil before a fresh one is dug to restart the cycle.
Maxwell Zimphondo, a resident of Blantyre City who shuttles with a tax around the city says he has little trouble managing refuse in his home.
Zimphondo, who has a wife and three children and lives in a two bed roomed house in Chilomoni township says they have a wastebasket in the kitchen where they dump all the litter within the house.
“When the wastebasket is full the dirty is emptied into a dust bin placed just outside the backdoor where any litter accumulated outside the house is also dumped,” he says.
“When full, the bin is carried to any footpaths within the location where we deposit the rubbish. We usually do this during the night,” said Zimphondo.
He says this is an on going practice and that all his neighbors within the location do likewise because the city has placed its refuse kips near market places only and it is usually far from residential areas. He says running water carry the refuse to nearby water bodies during the rainy season.
This is not the only refuse that contaminate water, in some instances, human excreta, another good example of household waste, if not properly disposed of, especially in homes where toilet facilities are not available get carried by the running water during rainy season.
Sometimes even wastewater from washing sinks and bathrooms that do no have soak away pits, end up into nearby water bodies and by this means impart harmful upshot on the biological value of water bodies thus menacing to spread diseases to people using water flowing downstream.
According to the 2001 state of environment report prepared by the environmental affairs department, collection of solid waste in 1995 was the highest at 30% in Lilongwe, the Capital City, compared to the country’s other three major urban centers. Environmental experts observe that the situation has not changed much.
Blantyre was just at 28%, the northern Mzuzu City and the old capital city – Zomba, now relegated to a municipality, were both at 8%.
Malawi’s Capital City Lilongwe launched a World Bank funded K10.5 million waste management equipment meant to help the City Assembly (Council) to provide clean and health environment for all city residents. The assembly bought Mercedes Benz trucks, an excavator, skips and scraper with the World Bank loan.
The skips, large containers capable of taking up nine tonnes of refuse are placed in different areas through out the city for residents to deposit all refuse except live ashes. The refuse is later collected by garbage trucks called skips loaders.
Most market squares where city authority place the 9m³ refuse skips is littered by refuse which vendors attribute to its inconvenient height, which they say, give them problems to use.
Lilongwe City Assembly, covering over three quarters of the City’s 340 square Kilometres, brought smaller skips of 6m³, which it placed throughout the Town and residential areas.
The City’s Director of Cleansing Services Josephie Chilemba says some of the skips are collected on a daily basis while others after a day, two days or a week. He said a skip loader truck carry an average of six skips a day and with adequate number of trucks the assembly should be able to collect many refuse skips a day.
“The 100 skips scattered around the city are serviced by only five trucks which can collect an average of 30 skips per day, assuming all are operational at all times,” he says.
Currently the City has two operational refuse trucks after one was impounded by sheriffs while the two are grounded but usually for the operation to be smooth a minimum of 4 trucks are required.
What is disturbing the City officials is that even with the skips all over the city and refuse trucks operational, some residents even in low-density areas continue dirtening the city by dumping refuse just anyhow.
Refuse collection in Cities is free of charge although residents argue that they pay city rates which they claim cover for waste management operations carried out by the city Assemblies.
Chilemba insists that it is a free social service because there is no refuse collection bill coming at the end of the month and urges residents to make phone calls if refuse has accumulated to the skips’ capacity.
The other problem of uncontrolled refuse dumping is contributed by street vending, which assembly byelaws outlaw, but Lilongwe City Assembly Chief Executive Dr Donton Mkandawire says there is no action from the city because he sympathizes with vendors.
But Mkandawire still vows, “I am trying to make the City Clean and I will do it.”
In some instances assemblies and some shop owners neglect the area of refuse management, prompting the Director of Environmental Affairs to continuously send communications to assemblies demanding of them to fulfill the requirement or face the law.
Communication from the environmental boss keep requesting its recipients to provide disposal facilities such as dust bins, skips etc wherever possible and always warning that non-compliance will result to penalties being imposed on them in accordance with the said act.
The director, also constantly request the assemblies to provide sign posts in strategic places informing the public that littering is not allowed and that such an act attract penalties and that should any resident see anyone littering they should report to the nearest Assembly office or Environmental Affairs Office.
Most of the warning has, however, been a tiger paper. Uncontrollable pilferations of all kind of wastes like food stuffs especially Irish potato peels, bottles, papers, toxic chemical cleaners solvents, and worn-out clothes on the streets and markets places remain a major blemish but the cities fail to enforce any law or byelaws.
The Public Health Act, part ix, section 62 talks about any nuisance against the law as anything injurious or so, situated or constructed as to be offensive or likely dangerous to health and it goes on stipulating penalties.
There are also guidelines at local government level. Byelaws as guidelines on sanitary and waste management have been ignored with impunity despite their presence.
In three major cities of Malawi, Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu presence of mounds of piling garbage in the streets and heaps of rubbish in the household or commercial backyards is still an eye sore despite all the effort to improve the situation.
Lack of action on proper refuse management has resulted into rampant outbreaks of diseases like Cholera and diarrhea usually during the rainy season.
A year ago Cholera scourge hit Blantyre city, Malawi’s Commercial Capital, health workers from the city and Health ministry went around the city’s townships spraying chemicals in soak-ways, bathing places, pit latrines and rubbish pits and distributed chlorine for household use in an effort to check the spread of cholera and all opportunistic water-borne diseases.
Blantyre City Assembly Head of Health Department Dr Lycester Bandawe said the city has been working with the District Health Office on how they can prevent the disease.
He said the city carries out a civic education campaign sensitizing residents whom it works closely with to ensure that household wastes are properly disposed of.
He however, blames the irresponsible residents who throw their wastes anywhere even in areas where there are skips he says such a people are not doing enough to improve the refuse situation.
A study by one University of Malawi lecturer noted that some institutions follow no guidelines at all in addressing issues of sanitation. In the guidelines waste is classified as domestic and non-hazardous wastes, sweepings, garden refuse and construction debris.
The researcher George Jabu in his paper ‘sanitation and Waste Institutional Review’ encouraged recycling and incineration of waste some best ways of getting rid of waste.
“No distinction is made in the method of collecting waste, whether it be from shops, streets, industry or domestic properties,” observed Jabu.
A case study on waste accumulation in the Blantyre City in particular discovered that in 1994 alone, a total of 5, 268 truckloads of refuse were deposited at one site. It was estimated that by 2015 depositing of solid waste in the city from industrial, commercial, civic and permanent domestic housing stock would increase to 48,000 tonnes per annum.
There have been running battles between residents and City authorities in all the cities over their choice of the final dumping sites here residents say is usually close to residential areas or people’s gardens.
Jabu observes that the city is now making an effort to recycle some its solid wastes. Refuse scavengers collect most of metal waste and sell it to a South African company, which takes it back home for recycle purposes.
A few years back a local company, which has since gone under, Malawi Iron and steel Corporation (Miscor) used to buy its raw materials from refuse scavengers where it was recycling cast iron to make nose rings which it was then selling to Portland Cement Factory.
The Cement factory was using the nose rings for making clinker, which was later being turned into cement.
Ever since the process stopped there has never been any institutionalized activity on recycling technologies to process and return waste products to society as a useful material apart from one paper recycling a donor funded Institution, Paper Making Education Trust (PAMET) which recycles papers at a small scale.
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