The issue of poor solid and liquid waste management in almost all councils has kind of become an order of the day. Many stakeholders, including politicians have spoken widely about the issue. Even the city officials themselves agree to this state of poor waste management.
Several reasons have been behind this sad development. Some of them, of course, make a lot of sense. For example, some of the councils are poorly staffed in terms of technical personnel. I have visited Lilongwe City Council (LCC) where I learnt that they only have one environmental health officer to implement all planned environmental health activities. It’s not only the top brass that is inadequate. This goes down to even the supervisors for sweepers, who undertake assignments which make us evaluate the cities’ abilities, especially in keeping cities clean.
Apart from not having enough technical staff, cities heavily lack machinery such as tractors, compactors and sewage vacuum tankers to facilitate the management of both solid and liquid waste. We cannot even talk about challenges in financial capacities of the councils. Cities have had such challenges for years on end. The situation should be worse now when even those institutions which boasted of swimming in government funding, such as government hospitals, are now crying together with everyone.
I believe it was, therefore, necessary for the councils to engage private sector players in the management of solid and liquid waste. It is, therefore, not strange nowadays to spot privately owned vacuum tankers parked at open spaces advertising their services. One can also see them going around residential houses and even public and private institutions emptying filled up septic tanks.
Recently, councils have also allowed individuals to be collecting garbage, especially in residential areas where councils don’t offer such services. Even though the services need to be extended to several areas, especially in low income areas which don’t access such services, this has been a positive development and has enabled most residents to access waste management services, keeping their environment aesthetically good.
However, this development has come with a cost which needs to be quickly monitored and tamed by our councils if we are to fully benefit from the services of these private waste management operators. Some of these private waste management operators have a big problem. They dispose the collected liquid and solid waste in undesignated areas. They dump the sewage or garbage into rivers or open gardens. Yet guidelines require them to dispose the garbage in council land fill sites and the sewage in council treatment plants. Just last week, while travelling along Kaunda Road towards Area 49, as I passed Lingadzi Bridge I saw a lorry full of garbage travelling in a field between the river and Bingu Stadium. I knew they were for no good. When I told a city official, he was suspicious.
While I was attending a seminar during the International Environmental Health Congress, one lecturer from Polytechnic cautioned us on the same behaviour which he also witnessed.
These guys, basically, do this to minimise operation costs mainly in two ways. Firstly, they save on fuel and, secondly, they run away from the user fees they are expected to pay at councils’ dumping sites. One can imagine how much pollution to rivers and environment these guys are causing through this illegal dumping.
While our councils have taken on board PPP [public, private partnership] by involving these private operators, the role to monitor them still remains with councils. If councils don’t monitor them, know that some of these guys are just transferring pollutants from residential houses to rivers and open gardens, and are getting paid for this nuisance. n