Lilongwe’s worst waste management
Somewhere in Area 25A in Lilongwe behind the Chibuku Tavern’s brick perimeter fence stretches a patch of garbage roughly measuring 500 square metres. It almost blocks the entire road that branches to Bvunguti School past the market before joining the tarmac road.
The stench from the garbage is so overpowering that one hardly sees people passing by without cupping or pinching their noses. Those who do not, hold their breath until they cover the entire stretch.
The overgrown shrubs emerging from the garbage and the sinking skip with its walls eaten by rust tell one common story: It has been ages since the waste was cleared.
“It’s a miracle that we haven’t had a cholera outbreak over the past years the garbage has been here,” explains a woman whose house’s gate stands two metres away from the waste.
“Imagine, we have to put up with all this stench day in, day out.”
As she speaks, she wrinkles her nose as her eyes follow dirty and grayish slime that oozes from the filth and snakes past the gate attracting a swarm of those green flies that infest pit latrines.
“We feel cheated considering that during the campaign, our counsellor and Member of Parliament used to stress that their administrations would prioritise waste management,” she adds.
Just at the head of the waste patch is a maize mill where women getting their grain milled have similar fears that one day the filth might cause an outbreak too vast to contain.
“We are massaging a ticking bomb here,” reasons one of the women, Veronica Simango.
“Just imagine, this is a market place and just behind this brick fence people are drinking open beer; and there are schoolchildren there not to mention the people whose houses face this sea of waste! How can this be allowed to happen in a city?” she wonders.
People in Area 25A are not the only ones facing challenges of waste management as a spot check in most markets in the city yields similar results.
Until a few days before the publishing of this article, residents around Area 49 Gulliver Market and those running businesses at the market had similar complaints for a long time as garbage remained uncollected at the market, threatening lives of many.
While the Gulliver Market waste was cleared and it now begins to collect at a fast rate as it always does everywhere, businesspeople at Area 18A Market share the experience and fears of those in Area 25A.
“The last time the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) collected the garbage here is seven to eight months ago if it’s not longer than that – I just can’t remember,” explains a young man, Prince the Barber, as he is popularly known.
Prince’s barber shop is just two to three metres away from the garbage and he and his few customers who brave the unfavourable environment take the entire stench in.
“Those who come to my shop for my services are my very old customers I have created a bond with from time in memorial and I’m always very grateful they do come, otherwise I do not receive new customers due to this unattended to filth here.”
Similar complaints are shared by a tailor shop owner just opposite Prince’s shop and one, Dickson Kalumpha, who sells live chickens just at the minor gate of the Area 18 Market.
The two, Prince and Kalumpha, have started mobilising contributions from the business fraternity at the market to employ some people to clear the garbage to some designated place so as to breathe some fresh air for once.
A walk around Lilongwe Old Town and down town to the bus depots tells the same story: a city on the verge of being submerged in filth.
LCC admi t s they are overwhelmed by the speed at which garbage collects in the city which the council attributes to the growing population in the city and the council’s lack of capacity to match the growing demand for a clean city.
“Recently, the council has been handicapped in the areas of having inadequate refuse collection equipment such as refuse collection vehicles, bins, skips and compactors,” explains Tamara Chafunya, LCC’s Public Relations Officer through a questionnaire.
She continues: “Some of the equipment mentioned requires a lot of financing, hence the council has faced so many challenges to sustain the refuse collection routines in the city. Despite the challenges above, the council continues to seek partnership with sister cities who have previously made kind donation of refuse collection vehicles.”
According to Chafunya, LCC has had partnerships with the City of Glasgow and the Japanese Government whose donations have helped ease the hustles encountered by LCC.
She further observes that Lilongwe is fast growing in its population with about one million people during the day time and 700 thousand people during the night time. Chafunya notes that this is because during the day time a lot of people move into the city to conduct various business transactions and return later in the evenings to their respective homes outside the city.
“Wi th this big human population, the demands for the services rendered by the Lilongwe City Council to the city residents continues to be high,” explains Chafunya.
“One of these critical services is to ensure that the city is clean and healthy and that refuse and garbage collection is done on a daily basis in all residential areas and the 41 markets within the city.”
But in the wake of the waste management challenge, a few entrepreneurial minds have moved in to utilise the situation into an opportunity by collecting the garbage and turn it into organic manure which is also what Chafunya touches on.
She says the Lilongwe City Council has partnered with key stakeholders such as the UNDP to initiate programmes that would help to sustain waste into wealth within the communities by making sure that all waste generated is converted into manure and that in turn people earn a living out of the same.
But while encouraging private partners to venture into waste management for business purposes, Chafunya is quick to point out some concerns.
“It is unfortunate to note that reputable companies and some private waste management companies have in some incidences been seen collecting waste and disposing it anywhere they find open space in public. This practice has also been the same at individual households.
“Currently, the council is formulating waste management policies which will monitor and guide such companies managing waste in the city to incorporate best practices in waste management issues.”
When he unveiled his vision for the city recently, the new Mayor for Lilongwe, Desmond Bikoko, said one of his priority areas is that he will lead the city to launch the Keep the City Clean and Green campaign.
It remains to be seen how soon the Mayor rolls the campaign out and how effective it will be but until the Lilongwe City gets clean and remains so, perhaps, people will one day live to remember Simango’s words.
“The bomb we are massaging will one day detonate in one way or the other – and that is when we will all say ‘why did we have to let it get to this?’ – And by then, we will have lost our dear ones to cholera outbreak or anything of that sort. Or we will have lost our reputation upon being ranked the filthiest city in the region,” Simango warns.
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues