Harry Makoti (55) of Chiwere Village, Traditional Authority Machinjiri in Blantyre is a victim of irresponsible waste disposal at Machinjiri’s Area 7 Market.
His house is just a stone’s throw from the market dump, rubbish heap.
Makoti says he breathes air which is contaminated with stench from the rubbish heap, and that mosquitoes and houseflies are a common feature in his house.
“This rubbish dump has shown me the worst of my life. People dump all sorts of things—leftovers, dead animals, you name it. It is a breeding place for insects.
“My house is always full of houseflies during the day and it is frustrating to eat while swatting insects. At night it is the same, mosquitoes are everywhere and my family survives on God’s grace,” says Makoti.
While Makoti’s family may use mosquito nets to keep safe from mosquito bites at night, he does not have that chance. As a watchman at a building lying next to the market dump, he says the place is hell at night.
Sounding helpless while showing the sorry state which mosquito bites have left his skin in, Makoti says: “I have two jobs at night; to guard the building from thieves and my body from mosquitoes. I don’t have peace when I am working because of the bad smell and mosquito bites.”
No wonder, he is a victim of malaria. I just four months, he has been diagnosed with malaria twice. Just a fortnight ago, he was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH).
According to Makoti and another resident near the market dump, Sakalani Mdoka, who is struggling to control his children from playing and picking food stuffs at the site, the situation has worsened since last September.
Mdoka says there used to be a skip at the dump and city council refuse collectors would empty it every week. But since its surface went off when a vehicle was removing the garbage, they picked it up and have never returned it.
This is what has forced people to start throwing litter at the site, which is now a mountain of rotten wastes.
Makoti adds that some use the place as a toilet at night. Other people also dump dead pets such as cats and dogs. He says it is these carcasses that cause the stench.
Blantyre City Council admits the absence of the skip at the site, but says it sends a refuse collecting truck to the market once in a while.
The council says it struggles to find money for maintaining waste management because some traders at the market evade tax.
Makoti says he and a few other residents in the area have tried to mobilise people in the neighbourhood and traders at the market to practice responsible waste disposal, but so far they have not been successful.
He says he is pessimistic that the situation will be corrected soon.
“It is not wise to dump a dead animal at a rubbish dump which is close to people’s houses. We have asked people to have pits and bury all dead animal but no one wants to stop,” he says, adding it is frustrating.
But Machinjiri is not the only place where garbage disposal is done carelessly. Most townships across the country face similar problems. With the lack of skips and garbage collectors in most places, proper waste disposal is a challenge.
Most people will keep their homes clean and pile the wastes within walking distance of their yards, a practice which both Lilongwe and Blantyre City councils say challenges their duty of managing wastes.
Director of department of health and social services at Blantyre City Council Dr Emmanuel Kanjunjunju, says city councils lack capacity to improve the situation.
“We have mounted small bins across Blantyre City, but still people throw waste on the ground. People are dumping waste, including dead animals, anyhow. We always sensitise people to the importance of responsible waste disposal but people are not changing.
“I think it is not time to continue blaming city councils because even though we are incapacitated, with responsible waste disposal, waste management could not be such a big challenge,” says Kanjunjunju.
But sensitising people is one thing. Do city councils enforce the law to ensure the cities are clean? Sections 37, 38 and 39 of the 1996 Environmental Management Act clearly prohibits any irresponsible waste disposal and attracts disciplinary actions.
Section 42 of the same Act goes on to say: “Any person who discharges any pollutant into the environment otherwise than in accordance with the Act may be required by the minister to clean up, remove or dispose of the pollutant in such manner and within such period as the minister shall direct.”
According to the Act, anyone who fails to manage waste is liable to a fine of between K20 000 and K1 million, and imprisonment for 10 years.
Both Kanjunjunju and Lilongwe City Council spokesperson Tamara Chafunya said it is not too late to promote responsible waste disposal.
They say they have developed plans to roll out massive sensitisation programmes to teach people on how to manage waste using few available facilities.
Among many others issues in the programmes, the public would be taught to avoid dumping dead animals in public dump sites, own household bins and put them along the streets on specified days for collection by city council vehicles.
Lilongwe and Blantyre city councils have each less than 10 operational refuse collection trucks and are responsible for collecting wastes from all residential areas and over 50 markets.