By Japhet Mpama:
Mazamba, one of the villages in Mzuzu in the Northern Region, used to be known for its green vegetation, come rain or sunshine.
Trees such as m’bawa, mtenthanyerere, mulongoti and fruit trees, among others, used to be part of the landscape.
In fact, due to the ever-present shed, thanks to forest cover, in the area, wild animals used to flock to areas around the villages, where tap and other tree roots used to keep the soil fresh and black, mainly due to the richness of alluvial soils in the area.
Indeed, Museums of Malawi records indicate that the area used to be teeming with antelopes, kudu, mswala, warthogs and other animals, all of which had their needs met by rich resources round-about.
According to Forestry Minister Nancy Tembo, those were the days when natural vegetation dominated Malawi’s landscape, before climate change and other ills became part of the lexicon.
“Malawi used to be a land known for its beautifulness, mainly due to the prevalence of natural resources in most parts of the country. In those days, charcoal-burning was not an issue because community members’ firewood needs could be met by dry wood and other fruits of forests.
“That is why we have been asking Malawians to plant trees and take care of natural resources because it is not too late to restore natural resources glory. We can do it; so long as we plant trees consistently and look after them. This is the reason the State President, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, has been encouraging citizens to plant trees. It is the only way we have restore Malawi’s natural beauty,” she says.
Indeed, during the launch of the tree-planting season late last year, Chakwera implored Malawians to plant more trees as one way of stemming the tide of climate change.
To date, according to Ministry of Natural Resources records, over 1.2 million trees have been planted throughout the country.
However, despite the country making inroads in reforestation efforts, there is one area that has taken a move in the opposite direction, a decision backed by those that are supposed to promote natural resources conservation.
The case in point in Mazamba Village, and surrounding areas, in the Northern Region, where Mzuzu City Council (MCC) officials sanctioned the establishment of Msiro Waste Dumping Site (MWDS).
Materialisation of the dream— to establish MWDS— started with the felling of trees, leading to the thrashing of grass and then the leveling of the ground all-about, culminating in the creation of a landscape devoid of trees and grass and, by extension, life.
In fact, in its stead is a nauseating stench that has become a part of life for those in Mazamba and surrounding villages.
Welcome to MWDS, a place so stinky that one would hardly believe that it was not there just 20 years ago.
Already, things are getting steamy, with village heads and community members ganging up against the stench and MCC.
As at now, village heads from areas surrounding Msiro, which is MCC’s official dumping site, are calling on duty-bearers to erect a fence to control hither to normal people that have, all of a sudden, turned into scavengers.
Since its establishment not so long ago, the dumping site has become a home to local residents, who scavenge for rotten food there.
Worse still, learners from surrounding primary schools have started shunning classes in favour of a scavenging expedition at Msiro, a development one of the parents Isco Mwafulirwa has described as “retrospective, counter-productive and a smack in the faces of those that are promoting the provision of quality education” in the country.
Such anger has spilled over to village heads, who are worried that the situation could trigger disease outbreaks as Msiro leftovers pose a health hazard to both the scavengers and people who stay in nearby villages.
One of the local village heads, Village Head Mazamba, observes that, since it could be too late to plant trees and tend grass at the site, at least MCC and other responsible government officials should erect a fence around the place to, “at least, ward off scavengers”.
“We want Mzuzu City Council to construct a fence as one way of protecting women and children who are feeding on leftovers dumped at the site.
“We fear for our children, for the area, for we cannot tell what future people that have been reduced to scavengers can create. It, surely, must be a bleak future. That is why we, as traditional leaders, are appealing to the authorities to construct a fence to save lives as the problem of scavenging is becoming more serious now than ever before,” Mazamba says.
He further laments that the facility has brought other unsung challenges to the area as primary school learners are skipping classes to scavenge around the dumping site.
One of the learners, who identified himself as Gamphani, says he finds all sorts of foods at the place; hence he has fallen in love with it.
“The first time I tasted what my friends later informed me was pizza was at this place. I never knew pizza but, thanks to Msiro site, I now know both its appearance, its shapes, and taste. When I find the opportunity, I skip school and come here to look for bits of pizza,” he says, smiling from ear to ear.
But the ear-to-ear smile may not be long-lasting.
This is because MCC officials have moved in on the issue and plan to stem the tide of the scavenging problem there.
MCC spokesperson MacDonald Gondwe acknowledges the extent of the scavenging problem. He also acknowledges what he calls traditional leaders’ “legitimate concerns”.
“We have welcomed chiefs; concerns and we, as a council, are doing everything possible to address problems identified at the dumping site.
“We, as Mzuzu City Council, are discouraging people from scavenging around the site as the health repercussions are way too high. We, as a council, plan to secure the place. Such plans are underway,” Gondwe says.
But, then, every passing minute, one rotten piece of meat or pizza is being consumed crumb by crumb, right there at Msiro.