Somewhere in Area 25A in Lilongwe behind the Chibuku Tavern’s brick wall stretches a patch of garbage roughly 500 square metres. It almost blocks the entire road that branches to Bvunguti Primary School past the market before joining the tarmac road.
The stench from the garbage is so overpowering that one hardly sees people passing by without cupping or pinching their noses.
Those who don’t, hold their breath until they cover the entire length of the stretch.
The overgrown shrubs emerging from the garbage and the sinking skip with its walls eaten by rust tell one common story: It’s been ages since the waste was cleared.
But it is not just in Area 25A Township.
The story is the same with Areas 18 and 49 Gulliver Market.
“The last time the city council collected garbage here is seven to eight months ago,” says a young man, Prince the Barber, as he is popularly known.
Prince’s barber shop is just two to three metres away from the garbage and he and his few customers who brave the unfavourable environment take the entire stench in.
A walk around Lilongwe Old Town and downtown to the bus depots tells the same story: a city on the verge of being submerged in filth.
Lilongwe City Council admits they are overwhelmed, attributing the problem to rise in population against their capacity to match the growing demand for a clean city.
The council’s spokesperson Tamara Chafunya said the council has been handicapped by inadequate refuse collection equipment such as refuse collection vehicles, bins, skips and compactors.
“Some of the equipment mentioned requires a lot of financing hence, the council has faced so many challenges to sustain the refuse collection routines in the city. Despite the challenges above, the council continues to seek partnership with sister cities who have previously made kind donation of refuse collection vehicles,” she said.
Going forward, Chafunya said the council has partnered with key stakeholders such as the UNDP to initiate programmes that would help to sustain waste into wealth within the communities by ensuring that all waste generated is converted into manure and that in turn people earn a living out of the same.
But while encouraging private partners to venture into waste management for business purposes, Chafunya is quick to point out some concerns.
“It is unfortunate to note that reputable companies and some private waste management companies have in some incidences been seen collecting waste and disposing it anywhere they find open space.
“This practice has also been the same at individual households.
“Currently the council is formulating waste management policies which will monitor and guide such companies managing waste in the city to incorporate best practices in waste management issues.”
When he unveiled his vision for the city recently, the new mayor Dr. Desmond Bikoko said one of his priority areas was that he would lead the city to launch the Keep the City Clean and Green campaign.
It remains to be seen how soon the mayor rolls the campaign out and how effective it will be but until the Lilongwe City gets clean and remains so, perhaps, people will one day live to remember Veronica Simango’s words.
“The bomb we are massaging will one day detonate in one way or the other – and that is when we will all say ‘why did we have to let it get to this?’ – And by then, we will have lost our dear ones to cholera outbreak or anything of that sort.
Or we will have lost our reputation upon being ranked the filthiest city in the region,” warns Simango. n