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Home  Letters to the Editor  Solid-waste Pollution In Lusaka
Solid-waste Pollution In Lusaka
Contributed by Henry Kyambalesa   
Nov 13, 2023 at 10:08 PM
ZAMBIA, Nov. 10 - I wish to commend the Environmental Council of Zambia for sponsoring the "Environmental Newsmaker Forum" held at Holiday Inn on November 8, 2023 to discuss the nagging problem of unprecedented levels of garbage in Lusaka city. Since I could not partake in the discussion, I have found it hard to resist the temptation of making a brief comment relating to the same issue through Zambezi Times Online (ZTO).

1. INTRODUCTION.--Solid waste, like air and water pollution, is a form of environmental pollution that is mainly a by-product of human activities. As such, it is an inescapable problem in every human society. It is, by and large, a culmination of discarded products or parts of products--including broken and non-reusable bottles, metal cans, plastic sacks and containers, newspapers, and automobile parts and bodies.

Lusaka city, like many other cities in modern Zambia, is currently experiencing serious problems at all stages of solid-waste management--that is, the collection, sorting, transportation, and disposal of garbage. The seriousness of this problem is summed up by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) in an article dated May 20, 2023 entitled "Zambia: Failure to Manage Urban Waste" found at as follows:

"Heaped garbage, a choking smell and pools of stagnant water sum up the state of Soweto market, the largest open-air trading area in Zambia's capital ... [and] are a sign of how urban waste management has failed in what was once called the `garden city' but is now cynically referred to as `garbage city'".

2. A HEALTH HAZARD.--The accumulation of solid waste in the capital city can be attributed to many factors, including the following: (a) public attitudes that are alleged to be generally characterized by lack of concern for the quality of surroundings; (b) failure by local authorities to prioritize garbage collection and disposal; (c) lax enforcement of by-laws relating to littering and other forms of contamination in public surroundings; (d) rampant and uncontrolled street vending; and (e) lack of financial and material resources resulting from irregular support in the form of grants from the central government.

But regardless of the reasons for the unprecedented accumulation of solid wastes in Lusaka city--and in other urban and sub-urban centers of Zambia, as a matter of fact--it is perhaps important to underscore the fact that such wastes are a serious health hazard. For instance, piles of uncollected solid-wastes facilitate the formation of pools of stagnant water and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes and, as such, dispose residents to the deadly malaria parasite.

Besides, outbreaks of cholera, meningitis and other contagious diseases in the country have been directly linked to the absence of effective solid-waste disposal systems, together with the lack of potable water in some communities and unhygienic street-vending of foodstuff.

The congestion of people in the city's urban and sub-urban areas occasioned by rural-to-urban migration has perhaps exacerbated the potential for outbreaks of communicable diseases in such areas. Inevitably, the potential health risks have become more profound and mind-boggling given the city's lack of adequate resources to provide for decent social services, public amenities and improved sanitary conditions to unprecedented numbers of residents.

Members of the MANGOKA Secretariat--who represent the residents of Marapodi, N'gombe and Kamanga residential areas in matters of refuse collection and disposal, and public health and sanitation--would perhaps provide us with a more precise and down-to-earth account of the potential health hazards associated with high levels of solid wastes in the capital city, whose sources include households and both commercial and industrial undertakings.

3. POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS.--A viable and long-term solution to the problem of solid-waste pollution is regular collection and recycling of all forms of solid waste. For example, plastics, discarded metals, and paper wastes can be collected and recycled into usable raw materials. Another feasible solution to the problem of solid wastes is the production of biodegradable products--that is, any products that are made in such a way that they can be naturally broken down into elements that are less harmful to the physical environment upon being disposed of.

Moreover, making reusable products and parts of products can greatly contribute to the mitigation of solid wastes. For example, containers can be designed in such a way that they can be used for other purposes once their original contents are exhausted. Junk yards are certainly not a viable solution to the problem of solid-waste pollution because they, among other reasons, take up areas that need to be reserved for commercial, residential, recreational, and/or other worthwhile purposes.

Besides, it is essential for the Zambian government to require locally based organizations to include environmental impact statements in their business plans or corporate charters. Suggestively, such statements need to incorporate the following, among other things: (a) identification of potential impacts of their operations on the environment; and (b) a description of measures they are geared to take in managing these impacts to tolerable levels.

It is also important for the government to provide adequately for the material and financial needs of the Environmental Council of Zambia, which was created under the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990 to protect the environment and control pollution so as to provide for the health and welfare of persons, and the environment as follows: coordination of environmental management; promotion of awareness about the need to protect the fragile natural environment; and enforcement of regulations pertaining to the control and prevention of air, water and solid-waste pollution.

Further, inclusion of subjects or courses of study aimed at sensitizing citizens to environmental issues and problems in the curricula of all educational and vocational training institutions can lead to conduct among citizens that is environmentally benign. To be effective, such education needs to be interdisciplinary in nature; in other words, it needs to be aimed at preparing citizens to be: (a) knowledgeable about the interrelatedness of biophysical and socio-cultural environments of which humans are a constituent part; (b) aware of environmental issues and problems and of viable alternatives in resolving the issues and problems; and (c) motivated to work voluntarily toward the protection and improvement of the fragile natural environment.

At this juncture, let us reflect on the luck of material and financial resources for addressing the nagging problem of solid-waste pollution in Lusaka city in particular, and in the entire country in general.

In this regard, there is an urgent need for both the central government and local authorities to seriously consider the prospect of shedding off some of the top-level sinecures in their administrations, instituting strict controls on both recurrent and capital expenditures, and streamlining operations.

It is, for example, irresponsible for us, as a nation, to condone a situation where the central government is composed of so many ministers and deputy ministers. Have we ever asked ourselves how government ministries continued to perform as before under the superintendence of Permanent Secretaries after the Cabinet was dissolved prior to the 2006 tripartite elections? What difference, then, will the recent appointments of ministers and deputy ministers make in terms of the performance of government ministries?

I am generally impressed by the caliber of the current crop of Permanent Secretaries; they are capable of advising the Republican president on, and spearheading the implementation of, policies relating to the government ministries they are expected to administer--a task which one would expect current ministers and their deputies to perform, but which most of them are not likely to perform adequately because they do not possess the necessary knowledge and skills relating to the overall missions and objectives of the government ministries to which they are appointed.

Once we secure a constitutional proviso that will require the Republican president to constitute his or her Cabinet from citizens who are not MPs (non-politicians, that is), Republican presidents will have the opportunity to fill Cabinet-level positions with technocrats.

By the way, do we really need District Commissioners in our quest to provide adequately for public health and sanitation, education and training, food security, public safety and security, and so forth? Further, and without intentionally wishing to inflame controversy, wouldn�t our National Assembly still be representative and able to function effectively as the legislative organ of our national government with only 72 elected Members of Parliament (MPs)--1 MP elected from each of the existing 72 districts? Also, does the Republican president really need to nominate 8 people to the National Assembly? Why not 5 or less?

Meanwhile, the performance of essential public services like refuse collection and disposal is left to the private initiative of community-based organizations like the Marapodi Solid Waste Collection Services, and private enterprises like the Copperbelt-based Asset Holding Company--which provides municipal services in several mine townships involving garbage collection, operation of disposal sites and treatment of sewer.

Government leaders should be there not to function merely as figureheads. More than ever before, our country needs leaders who are change agents--leaders who are always on their tenterhooks searching for ways and means of improving the livelihoods of their fellow citizens, and applying scarce public resources with the utmost frugality.

4. CONCLUSION.--While individuals and institutions need to be obliged to tackle the pollution they directly generate, there is a need for the creation of a partnership by the business community, non-profit organizations, and both national and regional governments to deal with environmental issues and problems for which no single organization or societal member can be held responsible. Ideally, such a partnership should, among other things, be based on voluntary self-help, that is, without any undue reliance on any of the cooperating institutions.

Currently, there are a few cooperative endeavors in the capital city which are making a positive impact on refuse collection and disposal in particular, and on sanitation in general; they include the Sustainable Lusaka Project (SLP) financed by Ireland Aid, and the Lusaka-Dayton partnership created by the Lusaka City Council and the Dayton municipality in Ohio, USA.

And one would do well not to slight the contributions being made through the "Keep Lusaka Clean" campaign, the "Make Zambia Clean and Healthy" campaign, the Zambian Red Cross Society door-to-door community health-education campaign, the Lusaka Solid Waste Management Project funded by the Danish Development Agency, the Resource Cities program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other non-government efforts directed at redressing the solid-waste problem in particular, and enhancing public health and sanitation in local communities nationwide in general.

Ultimately, the overall responsibility for ensuring that garbage is collected, transported and disposed of in a safe and environmentally friendly manner should be assumed by local authorities supported materially and financially by the central government. This can be achieved in any of the following ways: (a) through direct local-government involvement in the exercise; (b) by engaging private contractors through competitive bids; and/or (c) through both direct local-government involvement and sub-contracting the garbage collection and processing services in selected areas.

By Henry Kyambalesa
Agenda For Change

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