Confronting regular enemy: The challenge of waste in city councils

NOT TO FAR FROM HAZARD—A vendor arranges his merchandise in Mzuzu market

By Chisomo Sumani:

Mzuzu main market is the heart of the Mzuzu City’s economy providing a wide variety of goods and services to its residents on daily basis.

From vegetables to clothes, electronics to hardware accessories and restaurants to butcheries, the market pulsates with business activity every day.


Thousands are employed here – in the shops and in menial jobs such as lifting goods for traders.

But there is also a downside to all this: the problem of poor sanitation.

And as Malawi keeps registering a high number of people migrating from rural to urban areas, the challenge is worsening in centres like Mzuzu main market.


The issue of poor sanitation has been an outstanding challenge for Mzuzu City.

On our visit to the market two weeks ago, we found evidence of efforts by the city council and some traders trying to keep the place free of waste.

Inside, it was also clear that there were attempts to keep the environment clean.

Outside, a skip in which traders and others are supposed to dump waste was empty at the time of the visit, showing a recent rubbish collection activity by the council.

But one of the vendors positioned near this skip said half the time, this main waste dump site at the market lies for weeks unattended to, overflowing with waste.

“It happens almost all the time. I wish this main market dumping site was not at the centre of the town but somewhere far away; it would help me and others to make a good living as well as be free from potential illnesses,” says one of the vendors.

By any measure, while there are spots that are enjoying considerably good sanitation in the city and in the market, there are many more that are rocked by poor waste disposal.

For instance, traders in the market complained about the smell reeking from two water drains owing to decomposed waste stuck.

They complained about the poor state of the public toilets there.

When it rains, there are puddles of water that form in the potholes in the market.

In effect, it is that as residents visit the market both as traders and customers daily, they could be walking back home as transmitting agents of cholera, malaria, dysentery, typhoid and many other diseases that arise due to poor sanitation.

For the erratic sanitation situation in the main market, Alexander Sikwese, chairperson of the vendors in the market, blamed it on congestion.

“Everyone [traders] wants to be in the main market. The market is full and that has an impact on sanitation,” he says.

According to Sikwese, while the city council has to do its job, vendors themselves have a role too.

“People need to take good care of their own surroundings, working together with the city council to improve sanitation,” he says.

In one such individual efforts by market users, vendors that ply their trade at the main car park at the main market paved their area to ensure good drainage of water when it rains.

According to UNDP, Malawi has been facing several challenges in waste management, with city councils managing only 12 percent of the waste, and the private waste collectors working to fill the gap.

In addition, there has been limited coordination between waste generators, waste collectors and recyclers, a development which is says worsens the challenges.

Yet, says UNDP, developing an effective waste management system is one of the key areas Malawi needs to tackle as it strives to achieve sustainable development.

“SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production, targets on substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, and recycling of all waste, by 2030,” UNDP says.

For many years, access to good sanitation has been an everyday struggle in Malawi’s cities, no less so in Mzuzu.

Stinking drains, stagnant muddy water, poor waste management and broken or poorly managed public toilets have been order of the day.

Every day, as vendors travel from their homes to the market to open up their shops, as restaurant owners prepare the fire to make their services ready, as customers troop to the markets for the daily needs, they come up against the challenge of poor sanitation in various forms. Either they are generators of it or they are on the receiving end of it.

President of the District Environmental Health Officers (Dehos), Kondwani Mamba, says there is need for these experts to undertake a mapping of waste collection and disposal sites as part of the efforts to improve efficiency in waste management.

He also encourages privatisation of waste management to enhance good sanitation.

“There is also need to introduce polluter pays principle. I believe this will make everyone responsible for the waste he generates,” he says.

In basic terms, polluter pays principle (PPP) means that the polluter is kept responsible for the pollution.

According to an article on the subject published in ScienceDirect, PPP imposes liability on a person who pollutes the environment and compensates for the damage caused to human health or the environment to its original state.

“The main idea of the principle is that each polluter must achieve an economically efficient level of production and pollution and polluter must not see only benefits of the activity causing the pollution but also the harms imposed on others or environment,” reads the paper, titled ‘Circular system of resource recovery and reverse logistics approach: key to zero waste and zero landfill’ and published last year.

On its part, Mzuzu City Council encourages residents to also understand their role in waste management in the city.

The council’s Public Relations Officer, Macdonald Gondwe, says people have misconceptions that the city’s operations and inadequate refuse equipment are the major causes of poor sanitation in the city.

“Everyone needs to understand that they all are responsible for the cleanness of their city,” he says.

Gondwe says the city council wants an improved and a better city where all can live in good conditions. But it also requires everyone taking a part, he indicates.

“The State President brought up a cleaning campaign where all people are encouraged to take part. Institutions need to support the cause with funding, dustbins, cleaning material, protective wear and all sorts of help to fight against poor sanitation,” he says.

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