Lilongwe City Council has just announced that it has won the first Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation and is claiming to be on the road to glory, but the garbage situation in the city speaks of a crumbling metropolitan concrete jungle.
A snap survey of the city of about 800 000 inhabitants shows that the council has been erratic or completely stopped collecting garbage in some parts of the city, forcing residents to dump garbage in streams and roadsides.
In Chilinde, a high density township, garbage piles are getting bigger and residents are getting worried for their health.
One of the open grounds just a minute from Matchansi Trading Centre off Chidzanja Road is slowly getting out of control.
The dumpsite is surrounded by houses, some as close as five metres. All sorts of material are dumped on the open space: tampons, broken gin bottles, onion peels, rotting cabbages and all manner of squalid waste.
Chilinde has many houses packed together, without a ready river or lonely path for people to use as a dumpsite. This means people are forced to come to the dumpsite.
As hordes of residents come with their bags, baskets and bins of refuge to empty on the bin, chickens and children welcome the new arrivals, rummaging through the waste. When the garbage is collected, children play soccer on the ground, but it has been more than a month since they enjoyed a six-a-side game.
For the dumpers of the garbage, the place is owned by the city council and legally marked as a dumpsite. For some, such as Chiutila Subili, the dumpsite is their home, his house being just 10 metres from the garbage mounds.
“They used to collect the refuse weekly here, but so far, it has been like three months. We have no peace, we eat in the stench. When it rains, the refuse washes off to our homes and we don’t know what people threw here,” said Subili.
“Children do not discriminate, they play with anything and parents cannot always be there to guard them from playing. Thus, we see children being injured by glass and handling dangerous material.
“We wonder how rich people complain about fuel shortage and get heard; here, we are poor and voiceless,” he added.
And it is not just Chilinde.
Sphiwe Banda, a resident of Area 47 Sector 3, said she has never seen a garbage collector in her area since she moved there over a year ago.
Benet Meke of Gulliver said people in the area dump waste on the roads after dark, a scenario also reported by residents of Area 6.
Moving towards the city centre along Kamuzu Institute for Sports, there are pillars of garbage on the roadside and some people even use trucks to offload hardware waste.
Programme manager for Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) for water and sanitation, Tabbi Mnolo, noted that despite the situation being better this year compared to last year, there are still blights in terms of the garbage condition in the city.
“The challenge is in garbage collection. For example, near Area 3 market, they take long to collect garbage and the place smells bad. There are restaurants around and people can catch diseases such as cholera.
“In locations such as Area 22 and Mtandire, people resort to dumping waste in rivers so that it should be washed away. This pollutes water,” said Mnolo.
Spokesperson for the council Tamara Chafunya acknowledged the garbage problem, but said the institution is trying hard to deal with the situation.
She said the council is planning to hire private garbage collectors to fill in the gaps.
“Many people are moving into the city from rural areas, which means there is high demand for garbage collection services against our limited resources,” said Chafunya.
She said the council has 10 refuse collection trucks and currently only eight are working. She said the eight have to service all residential areas in addition to about 50 markets.
Chafunya called on residents to bear with the city and take some responsibility in dealing with the problem. She lamented the vandalising of the council’s equipment and the dumping of garbage in streams.
Chafunya said the council is intensifying anti-cholera sensitisation in residential areas. She said in Mtandire, women were taught to convert garbage into compost manure as one way of dealing with the problem.
Twenty percent of Malawi’s population lived in urban areas as of 2010, while the current rate of urbanisation stands at 5.3 percent.
By 2030, the 80 percent that lives in the rural areas will inhabit the urban areas and Chilinde will be a scary sight then, unless, of course, some serious planning and strategies come into play before that.
Subili will look back to 2012 and say things were better.