In Blantyre’s Ndirande Township, living or doing business in a waste-free environment is a dream.
This is what Ben Chabooka Khomani will tell you if you visit his merchandise shop along Chinseu Road. Until you visit the place, such a sweeping statement will sound unbelievable.
Due to lack of space in the main market, Khomani is among the business people forced to ply their trade along the market’s brick fence.
Call it a haven of stench or a world where business people sacrifice their health and life for money. No one will blame you.
Khomani’s shop is just a metre away from the Blantyre City Council (BCC) garbage skip, which he does not remember when it was last cleared.
“I wish I had an option,” he begins the story. “I have been at this place since the one-party system [of government that ended in 1994] and I cannot move because my customers are used to this place.”
In the past, Khomani says, the skip was cleared almost twice a week and they did not struggle with odour from it. But things changed with the dawn of democracy in 1994. He says he saw the waste management system collapsing and sees no sign that things will improve.
During the interview, the skip was full and an irritating pungent smell from a dead dog dumped in it engulfed the atmosphere.
Khomani says that was not the first time for a dead animal rot in the skip. He says they usually report such cases to BCC, but often nothing is done. He adds that even telling tax-paid BCC staff at the market to remove the dead animals yields nothing, claiming they starkly refuse to do so. He says twice he personally hired people to remove the carcasses.
The community is furious. Khomani recalls that they once teamed up to boycott paying market fees, but they were threatened with a vacation order.
“We do our part to bring waste in one place. We are their customers, why do they not help us?” he wonders.
The skip is on the edge of the road and is surrounded by workshops, restaurants and timber and hardware dealers. Those working in the area say they eat while fighting houseflies.
“During the rainy season, stinking liquid, with worms in it, flows everywhere. We prepare m’memo [informal contributory communal dish] around this place. How can we eat?” laments Khomani.
The story is the same in the residential areas. It is, however, worse in areas without skips. Residents dump waste in open spaces. The only way to clear them is burning them, but it is not a reliable solution as Mercy Nkhoma, a resident of Malaysia/Malabada location in the township, argues.
“When we complained, BCC arranged that we should own bins and they will be sending their vehicle to collect the waste. They did, but for only weeks and they no longer come,” says Nkhoma.
She says residents created a dumping site where fire is the means of clearing the waste, but the bad smell from the area punishes Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) clients in Malaysia/Malabada location, among other residents.
This is the story that cuts across the country’s cities.
Residents have complained and city councils promised to act, but the anecdote is worsening.
A visit to Blantyre main market, precisely behind the Bus Stands, shows one a BCC skip which is hardly cleared. It is the same at Tsoka Flea Market in Lilongwe.
Another sad story comes from Mzuzu. Despite being a small city, the council is struggling with managing waste.
Recently, the council’s director of health Lilian Chirwa revealed that 95 percent of garbage in locations and 20 percent in markets goes uncollected.
What is the problem?
Both BCC and Lilongwe City Council (LCC) public relations managers Anthony Kasunda and Tamara Chafunya admit challenges in refuse collection.
In a previous interview, Chafunya’s responses gave no hope for an immediate success in waste management.
She said: “In the years 2005/06, LCC had 100 new skips and nine up and running waste collection vehicles. We are remaining with 20 skips and five roadworthy waste collection vehicles.”
The situation continues to deteriorate. Recently, Chafunya said only nine skips are in a state of repair now. She said with waste generation standing at 0.5 kilogramme per person per day, the city has 500 tonnes of waste generated daily due for collection.
“Of this, LCC is only able to collect 30 percent for disposal,” says Chafunya
In Mzuzu, Chirwa says of the 17 markets they, only four have skips. The city has 20 skips and one vehicle for waste collection.
On his part, Kasunda says: “It is not in our interest to keep skips unemptied for long. Sometimes delays are a result of breakdowns of our vehicles because most of them are ageing and spare parts are scarce and expensive.”
He says there is need for teamwork, arguing that sanitation can be improved only if residents and the council hold hands with a common goal.
Kasunda further asks residents to ensure that they use bins and place garbage in designated places for easy collection.
Nonetheless, this sounds like a song from all councils. At Malaysia in Ndirande, Blantyre, and Area 47 Sector II in Lilongwe, for instance, residents claim they bought expensive bins hoping that council vehicles would be collecting them, but the vehicles are nowhere to be seen.
Any way out?
Indisputably, councils are losing the battle against waste management, maybe until they improve on resources. But Kasunda and Chafunya say it is not over until it is all over.
Kasunda says his office is designing a formula of turning garbage into useful products such as compost manure and briquettes to reduce the quantity of waste disposed for easy management.
Chafunya says LCC has formulated a Solid Waste Management (SWM) policy which recognises Public-Private Partnerships (PPP).
“We have reviewed SWM by-laws to, among others, include the PPP aspect in SWM. To operationalise this, LCC has come up with guidelines for private waste operators,” she says.
Chafunya adds that LCC is exploring how best the formal private sector can be incorporated in waste management to energy projects.
Last year, LCC announced plans to buy 38 skips and three new vehicles for waste collection. To date, no update has come forth.
Almost 52 years after independence, it is time Malawi found lasting solutions to SWM. Goal number II of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), sub point six, calls on nations to reduce per capita environmental impact of cities, including paying special attention to air quality, municipal and other waste management.