Lilongwe’s waste management woes have hit a new level with residents and licensed private waste collectors dumping waste anywhere under the watch of the city fathers and threatening innocent lives from contracting diseases.
Areas along the Lilongwe bypass road have become the latest target and piles of solid waste are building up at alarming levels.
The Lilongwe City Council (LCC) faces fuel shortage problems which force the three (3) waste-collecting vehicles to stay grounded even up to a month, an impeccable source at the council has revealed.
Interviews with people around the affected places revealed most of the vehicles offloading the trash along the road are not from the city council.
We also established the culprits use private vehicles, remove registration numbers and are usually quick during their operation.
They dump assorted waste including plastics, glass bottles, diapers and other organic waste mostly food leftovers.
“Normally they come at night and sometimes daytime using open vehicles. When we find them we force them to clear the trash but very few comply” said one of the guards manning the main entrance to Katete farm which is opposite one of the affected sites.
A visibly concerned angry passerby George Chilekwa from Chinsapo and walks on the road on a daily basis fumed at city authorities for doing nothing about the issue. He said he has been to 6 countries in Africa but he never saw anything like this being entertained.
“One day I confronted a certain group which I found offloading the garbage during the day but they seem not to be fazed. This is a busy road and it doesn’t give a good impression about our country, we are putting our lives in danger including inviting diseases such as cholera” said Chilekwa.
A spot check during the week discovered piles of waste in different sizes some which were dumped the previous night. Worse still the “smart ones” go a little bit inside the plots along the road where huge amount waste is piling up and has become home for scavengers from nearby locations such as areas 34, Chinsapo and other nearby villages close Katete Farm.
This reporter interviewed 19-year-old Joseph Kaipa spotted carrying a 50 kg bag loaded with plastics. Kaipa corroborated statements made by the guard that most of the cars frequent the place to dump their waste.
“Normally the cars come in different sizes to dump the trash at around 2 O’ Clock in the afternoon and most of them come from areas 3, 6, and 9. I normally come to look for plastics which I clean them at a nearby river and sell them at Njewa where there is a plastic recycling company. This may cost MK 7000… I do this because I am no other sources of raising money” said Kaipa.
He mentioned the names of some companies which are involved in the malpractice but the reporter is yet to establish the truth of the allegations. However, he claimed that the companies give them matches to burn the unsegregated waste after scavengers pick whatever interests them.
The shocking scenario met during the mission was when this reporter with the help of the road traffic police impounded a salon vehicle Nissan 4D registration number ZA5665 packed with stinking trash – raising questions how the driver survived the staunch smell in the small car and how on earth that could be done.
The driver was reluctant to divulge his identity but eventually gave in after the traffic officer Inspector Frank Kunje convinced him that if he presents his case very well, other well-wishers may be interested to offer help. He later identified himself as Petro Thamata , Managing Director of Cleaning by Virtue, a private waste collecting company he established 3 years ago.
“ I established the company three years ago to help the city authorities manage the waste and care for the environment. Currently, we have no adequate resources but we do our best to dump the garbage at the designated places” said Thamala.
He disclosed they have clients especially from low-density areas such as Areas 6,3 4 6 and 9.
He said: “We normally charge a fee which sustains our rentals for our small office, pay some of the workers and meet daily expenditure. Today I am using a small car because the rented lorry I normally use is grounded at the Garage.” He denied being part of the companies dumping waste along the bypass road.
When the matter was reported to the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining a team of inspectors from the Environmental Affairs department showed up.
However, the impounded vehicle was released despite it having expired documents.
The officers proceeded to inspect other areas that have been messed up along the road, the new dumpsite in the making and were seen taking pictures.
The release of the car appeared suspicious move and exposed the lack of collaboration between the police and the Environmental Affairs Department (EAD, information sharing and understanding of the law on the part of police officers who meet such incidents on a daily basis but do not apprehend the culprits.
The Environmental Management Act of 2016, however, provides clear guidelines on the types of vehicles which are supposed to be used for such exercises and the Salons are not anywhere close.
“The Minister may, at any time, revoke any license issued under this section or vary any condition attached to the license if the activity in respect of which the license is issued constitutes an rent, actual or potential hazard to the environment or natural resources or if the licensee violates any condition endorsed on the license” reads Part VII (5) of the Environmental Management Act (1996).
Lilongwe City Council Spokesperson Tamara Chafunya has acknowledged the problem and attributed it to lack of equipment and vehicles at the council before calling on all city residents to understand that it is their responsibility to ensure waste is properly disposed of.
On non-compliance by some private waste collectors, Chafunya said they are taking serious measures to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of the law besides raising awareness on the part of private companies on the need to adhere to given standards.
However the Director of Environmental Affairs Department Taonga Mbale Luka has faulted the city council for failing to prioritize waste management in their budget and relegating the responsibility of managing waste to private companies which are not competent and lack the capacity.
“We will be meeting the council and other stakeholders including the Road Traffic Directorate to map the way forward on how best we can deal with private companies not complying with the law. The good thing is we have a new law in place and on-spot fines will help curb this practice” said Luka.
She, however, agreed with Chafunya that after all is said and done Malawians should know it’s not just the city which has the responsibility to look after the waste they generate, but rather everyone’s responsibility.
Meanwhile, a Polytechnic based Environmental Health expert Save Kumwenda has since warned that residents are at risk of diseases especially this rainy season.
He also called on all stakeholders including the media to raise awareness so that citizens must be empowered to raise an alarm when such happens.
“Improper waste management makes cities look unattractive and contribute to the transmission of diseases especially during the rainy season where these wastes are easily swept to water bodies. In addition, some wastes attract flies and other animals which bring diseases to people. The issue of solid waste management is one that most cities in the world struggle with. This is so because it is expensive due to daily transport costs. Also, it is often difficult to change people’s behavior in terms of waste management practices” said Kumwenda.
On the private company’s alleged misconduct Kumwenda urged the city council to put strong monitoring mechanisms and revoke licenses for those failing to comply.
He said: “One way that most cities have utilized is the private-public partnerships where private companies assist in the collection and disposal of the solid waste. But the challenge is profit margins. Private companies want to maximize profits while residents do not want to pay more for such services. This results in the companies taking short cuts such as using inappropriate vehicles and reducing the distance to dumpsite by disposing waste in bushes or any place they find.
He also added: “The city has regulations on who should do the business, the type of vehicles to be used and how and where to deposit the waste. What is required is serious monitoring of these people, revoke licenses to those involved in the malpractice and arrest those not registered. This will make sure they comply”.
Areas such as 25, the land behind Bingu National Stadium are also facing similar challenges. The 6 miles dumping site in area 38 has also failed to relocate many times and surrounding residents have threatened unspecified action to the city council if they continue to do nothing on their concerns. At the height of the concerns are the diapers which are just being thrown all over and the dogs pick them back to the people creating thereby more mess.