Seven years ago, Mzuzu City Council (MCC) hatched a dream to make the city a model in waste management both in Malawi and across the borders.
This was after the council acquired K688 million funding from the European Union (EU) to implement a sanitation and hygiene project in partnership with Plan Malawi and Circle for Integrated Community Development.
As part of the project, the consortium envisioned to have ‘a state-of-the-art’ waste management facility which would have equipment for turning organic waste into manure and separating inorganic matter.
The facility was meant to help the city reduce, recycle and reuse solid waste; thereby, boosting socio-economic status of the people through public private partnership arrangement.
The dream started in 2014 with construction works at Msiro on the margins of the city. The climax of it was in 2015 when First Lady Gertrude Mutharika, as Beautify Malawi Trust (Beam) founder, presided over its opening.
Today, the investment that needed to bear its fruits is but a colourful dream that has turned sour.
“We have been cheated,” says village head Mateyo Mhango from Msiro, near Dunduzu Roadblock.
“Since opening, this has never been a waste management facility as promised. It is a mere dumpsite like the one at Mchengautuba Township which attracted a lot of outcry from residents until it was closed.”
Just like at Mchengautuba, the dumpsite at Msiro has become a breeding ground for houseflies. These wreak havoc on nearby homes.
Worse still, the site is a few metres away from Msiro Primary School, separated only by a perimeter wall. This has seen a surge in scavengers whenever truckloads dump waste from hospitals, markets and homes.
The breakdown in sanitation has exposed pupils and the community to sanitation-related illnesses. This was evidenced by an outbreak of typhoid in 2018 which killed three.
“It appears the council was simply transferring the public health crisis from Mchengautuba Township to us. Perhaps because we are poor and voiceless,” says Mhango.
He says this is the conviction of his people because “we all along refused to have the project here, but they forced it on us. We did not want to suffer like our colleagues in Mchengautuba, but the police were involved to silence us.”
However, after years of living with the public health hazard, the local community thickened their skin earlier this year to confront the council on their welfare. The council dilly-dallied such that locals mobilised themselves to close the site by digging a trench at the entrance, destroyed the perimeter wall and torched some facilities.
This has left the council with no official site to dump waste generated in the city.
In the absence of Msiro dumpsite, MCC environmental health and cleansing officer Lloyd Gomani says the Department of Forestry has given the council land at Lusangazi Forest to dump waste for three months.
“This is a temporary relief for us as we wait to settle the dispute with communities at Msiro,” he says, although reports indicate that villagers at Lusangazi are also protesting the move.
Gomani says the Msiro Waste Management Facility has not lived up to expectations because of funding issues.
“Some machinery that were included in the project proposal were not funded by the donor. These include shredders and incinerators. Lack of these machineries is affecting waste management operations facility,” he says.
Mzuzu Vendors Association vice-president Gerald Maulana says the council has been struggling with waste management for years and the issue at Msiro is just a scapegoat.
“As vendors, we intend to start collecting the waste and dump it at their offices so that they should have a feel of what we go through every day,” he warns.
However, MCC director of administration Chrispine Banda says the problem also boils down to illegal vending which robs the council of revenue to manage waste effectively.
“These are the people who are not paying market fees. Yet for us to clear the garbage, we need resources and money to refuel our vehicles. We do that if all these traders pay market fees,” he says.
Banda, however, says the council has put in place various measures to ensure that waste is cleared both in residential and public places.
He says the city understands the importance of keeping the environment clean in the face of coronavirus outbreak.
Social activist Peter Mumba says it appears the council’s priorities are upside down.
“They need to set their priorities right so that they should always have fuel for waste collection. Public health is a priority for residents,” he says.
St John of God administrator Christopher Mhone says residents in Mzuzu are at risk of sanitation-related illnesses such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera and diarrhoea if the public health crisis remains unaddressed.
Meanwhile, there has been another project to promote urban governance through active citizenship and stakeholder engagement in the city spearheaded by a consortium of Find Your Feet (FYF), Voice of Livingstonia and Church and Society of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia with funding from Tilitonse Foundation.
Church and Society deputy executive director Jacob Nkhambule says the project helped increase awareness so that people know of their role in improving sanitation.
“However, the challenge still remains with the closure of the Msiro Dumpsite as waste remains uncollected in the markets and roadsides,” he says.