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Managing waste in a growing city

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AT WORK – Phiri (in glasses) joins LCC officials in reviewing the plan

By Watipaso Mzungu:

There is a nauseating stench wafting through the atmosphere in most of Lilongwe’s townships.

Heaps of uncollected waste epitomise the city council’s failure to manage the garbage that residents churn out every minute.

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The situation is getting out of hand with the rapid rise in the number of people abandoning rural areas to urban settings in search of economic opportunities.

More and more waste continues being generated— straining the capacity of Lilongwe City Council (LCC), which is already struggling to collect, transport, treat and dispose it.

“The absence of guiding documents on how to manage the waste is also contributing to the challenge,” says LCC Assistant Director of Health – Cleaning Services—Thokozani Mkaka.

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LCC further attributes the waste management problem to lack of properly designed collection systems and time schedules, inadequate and malfunctioning equipment and poor states of dumpsites.

There is also massive improper littering around skips in strategic spots.

And the problem has attracted the attention of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of Lilongwe Archdiocese and Oxfam Malawi.

With funds from Tilitonse Foundation, the two organisations are working to improve the quality of life in cities.

CCJP Lilongwe Archdiocesan Coordinator, Enock Kamundi Phiri, admits that solid waste management is a huge problem in the country’s cities.

“Urbanisation, industrialisation and economic growth have resulted in increased waste generation per individual,” Phiri says.

He further indicates that improvements in civil infrastructure are required for Lilongwe to make a mark on the list of world-class cities.

“Developing quality infrastructure that meets the needs of the people and protects the environment is fundamental to achieving effective economic growth.

“Waste management infrastructure has an important role in delivering sustainable development,” Phiri says.

However, apparently, only a few city officers are sufficiently trained in proper solid waste management with accountability in current waste management systems lacking throughout the cities.

In Lilongwe, an analysis by CCJP and Oxfam established that LCC is a victim of an overlay of competing jurisdictions and leaderships from ministries, city authorities, parastatals, chiefs and political constituencies.

The analysis found that a multiplicity of competing, uncoordinated and non-collaborative institutions have merged from initiatives under different regimes without the Central Government deliberately consolidating them into a coherent whole.

The existence of these parallel sources of authority makes it very difficult for planning committees to oversee the observance of codes and standards within the city complex.

These institutional challenges rendered the council helpless on what it could do to deal with problems resulting from increased waste generation and increased pressure on service delivery.

“Because no single strategy or institutional framework guides these, significant coordination is needed to overcome the confusion in development control and service delivery.

“Thus, we are working to strengthen collaborative governance by bringing stakeholders in Lilongwe together so that they make decisions that help in improving urban governance,” Phiri states.

He envisages tremendous improvements in the quality of life for residents of the capital city, now that the council has a waste management plan whose development Oxfam and CCJP facilitated.

On his part, Mkaka describes the development of the plan as a milestone in managing waste “and a step towards achieving a cleaner and environmentally sustainable city”.

“The development of the plan has come at the right time when the Malawi Government has just launched the National Waste Management Strategy. So, the plan will also facilitate the implementation of the strategy,” he says.

He is also optimistic that the plan will help in addressing the problem of illegal littering in the city.

According to Mkaka, LCC spends about K80 million annually on clearing illegal dumping, which is said to be a result of high costs of collection, transportation and disposal of waste.

Tilitonse Foundation Deputy Country Director, Chandiwira Chisi, wants the Central Government to resolve inconsistences in urban area-related policies and laws.

Chisi further challenges the government to consider upgrading shantytowns into planned areas to facilitate the engagement of everyone in urban locations with their councils in development endeavours.

“Unlike in rural areas, where decentralisation structures work, in urban areas, they are only being set now and patronage is just picking. If these structures could be made to work, we would get there.

“It is motivating to note that Malawi 2063 has identified urbanisation as a key pillar. This offers hope that, finally, urban development will get the long awaited attention,” he says.

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