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Sleeping sentries, stinking city

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For over a month, sewage spill drifts down a drainage canal along the Paul Kagame Highway unattended to by anyone including those perhaps paid to do that.

The stench is predictable. It hardly gets buried in strong perfumes worn by fine men and women trekking to a brochette stall off the thoroughfare.

On the sides of the canal, the sewage grows into some kind of moss or algae that flies feast on before they can land on ready-to-eat food where they can find it.

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Along the upper shops of the popular Devil Street, solid waste has been gathering on a spot which seems to have someone’s blessings.

Close by, fish peddlers have to constantly whip flies from their commodities which do not easily sell as buyers cannot stand the smell from the gathering heap of wet waste which attracts both flies and dogs.

Almost anywhere in Malawi’s capital city, concrete evidence of poor sanitation is there for all to see.

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Perhaps, elsewhere in Lilongwe, the slovenliness is no longer news.

Accounts of the city’s sentries—who are paid to watch over it—sleeping easy in the warm arms of clichés have been narrated times without number.

“It is unfortunate that every rainy season, high levels of poor sanitation in Lilongwe resurface,”Chrispin Bokho, National Coordinator of the Water and Environmental Sanitation Network (Wesnet), laments.

And there is something that, perhaps, Bokho and many officials and the city’s residents, apart from Lilongwe City Council (LCC), are not privy to.

Inside a perimeter fence where there are two ‘abandoned’ one-storey buildings which were being operated as the council’s rest house years back at Malangalanga, LCC has found a convenient dumpsite in a city already struggling to manage its waste.

Hour after hour, garbage collectors shove wheelbarrows loaded down with refuse to the place to dump it there, hiding the rot in plain sight.

“What city council in the world keeps refuse in its own backyard?” queries James Ngomba, a resident of the city’s Area 1, popularly known as Falls Estate.

He would love to blame residents too and others who visit Lilongwe from other parts of the country for the mess seen and felt there.

But the dumping of waste at a place it was supposed to reap maximum returns from makes him damn LCC with passion.

“Residents too are not responsible enough when it comes to managing waste and improving sanitation in the city. But how do you explain a situation where the council itself engages in such activities? We are doomed,” Ngoma complains.

He wonders what LCC really does right.

“Water which is clearly contaminated flows freely here, like outside the main bus depot. And nearby, people are selling ready-to-eat food while others have mobile restaurants, all this happening under the watch of [LCC]. What exactly do they do?”

Even Bokho does not understand why poor sanitation seems to be having no solution in Lilongwe when it actually just requires doing what is right at its time.

Cholera cases that have been registered before should have jolted city authorities into action, he wishes.

“We were supposed to be talking about something else now not poor sanitation,” Bokho declares desolately. “We have talked about this for too long.”

For a city whose sentries have been sleeping ceaselessly, the election of ward councillors at the 2014 tripartite elections was seen by some as an opportunity to make things right.

But the old promise that these elected local authorities were ideal officials for strategic development in their areas quickly died out immediately after the polls.

At least, that is the case in many parts of the country with Lilongwe as a classic example.

“Councillors as political officials should do something to ensure Lilongwe City Council employees do their job. But it seems they too are sleeping,” Alex Tembo, a resident of Chinsapo Township in the city, observes.

From the council’s Health Committee itself, there is little hope that Lilongwe will stop stinking any time soon.

“It is a problem that has been there for some time, I agree,” the committee’s Chairperson, Councillor Maloni Chatewa, admits.

To a larger extent, he blames the city’s residents for being irresponsible in the management of waste which he warns can have dangerous implications on their lives.

He even claims there are several rubbish containers in the city which are not being utilised by residents and businesspeople who choose to dump waste in undesignated places.

“We are engaging in awareness campaigns, first targeting areas where waste management is the biggest problem,” Chatewa declares.

From accounts of the city’s residents and businesspeople and the evidence of how Lilongwe is managing its waste, perhaps Chatewa and his team should first target LCC, an institution he strategically belongs to.

He tells us he was not aware that the council is keeping waste at its rest house. He is the chairperson of its Health Committee and information at our disposal seems to perfectly crucify him.

A refuse collector that we met on our way from the city council’s rest house which has been turned into LCC’s dumpsite confided in us that some of the city’s bins have been taken away from some spots.

He was pushing a wheelbarrow filled with waste to dump it at the place. That is the trend among many others of his kind who are forced to jump even where they feel such an act may not suffice.

LCC spokesperson Tamara Chafunya claims there is the provision of skips inside the council rest house perimeter fence which enables storage of waste until collection is done.

Last week, we toured the place for close to 30 minutes, feeling its stench and enduring the sight of the festering trash.

We did not see any skip. The waste was spread on an open space, perhaps waiting to dry in a season best known for rains.

Chafunya says: “The Lilongwe City Council was initially making use of the space in between the central market and the bus depot for waste disposal. However, this site is currently being considered for market extensions.”

She explains that because of that, LCC is now using the open space within its facility, the rest house compound, as a temporary storage spot until such a time a permanent storage site has been identified.

It is not clearly known when the permanent storage site will be found.

In the meantime, refuse continues being dumped at LCC Rest house which the city’s Mayor, Desmond Bikoko, pledged when he rose to the position over a year ago he would not allow to continue lying dormant.

Perhaps, the place is now as busy as LCC has always wished.

Otherwise, when we contacted Bikoko last week on why LCC has turned its rest house into a dumpsite, he said he was not aware of the development having been outside the country for some time.

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