Waste management to the fore
The speakers ‘ from Kenya, the Sudan and hosts Zimbabwe ‘ opined how citizens, either as individuals or communities, could compel governments to implement health and environmental laws effectively and care for their basic rights.
It is only when communities take responsibility for ensuring that development is sustainable and do not desecrate their most precious gift ‘ land ‘ will they be on the path of sustainability, the meeting heard.
The workshop, under the theme “Experiences of Communities in the Urban Environment”, was organised by Practical Action Zimbabwe with support from the United Kingdom-based Comic Relief. The participants focused on the three countries’ experiences and how each is tackling issues around the environment: water, sanitation and waste disposal, pollution, housing and disease.
“When you have a poor urban environment,” says Lucy Stevens, international co-ordinator for Practical Action UK, “the cost of services in the areas goes up ‘ from health, education to small businesses!”
Stevens observes that the whole world is facing similar challenges of rising levels of all sorts of pollution mainly due to urbanisation hence the need to “learn from several countries the different ways these countries have gone in solving them”.
Some of these environmental problems include widespread land degradation as evidenced by peri-urban deforestation, soil erosion, siltation, air and water pollution and waste management. Since urban activities contribute to pollution and accumulation of waste, accordingly, national policy calls for sustainable initiatives in environment development.
Farai Magadzire, of the Environmental Management Agency in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, says her organisation has been mandated to look into the issues pertaining to waste management as spelt out in the Environment Management Act (Chapter 20:27.)
The functions of her agency include, inter alia:
l formulation of quality standards on waste management;
l regulation and monitoring of the collection, disposal, treatment and recycling of waste;
l making model by-laws to establish measures for the management of the environment within the jurisdiction of local authorities;
l undertaking (of) any works deemed necessary for the protection and management of the environment where it appears in the public interest and ensuring that waste is disposed of in a responsible manner.
“Residents need to be at the heart of these strategies,” she emphasises.
Janet Ngombalu from Practical Action (PA) concurs.
Apprising participants about the different research and collaborative programmes undertaken by her organisation in her country in which approximately 35 percent of the total population lives in urban areas, Ngombalu admits public service delivery is highly constrained. She says her organisation is doing a lot in bringing the environment on the agenda.
She maintains that holding of seminars and workshops on the environment, water and sanitation has helped in increasing awareness among the general population about the environment, waste management and gender-related issues.
Working in collaboration with government departments, tertiary institutions and United Nations development agencies dealing with various environmental issues, Ngombalu says PA Kenya operates in three areas ‘ Nairobi, Nakuru and Navuku.
Nairobi, she says, has a growing number of slums, with Kibera ‘ among the largest in Africa ‘ one of the poorest and most densely populated.
Environmental sanitation and waste management systems are very poor ‘ a clear manifestation of the level of urban poverty that has led to an enormous environmental crisis.
More critically, Ngombalu says, PA Kenya has recognised the important role of women. She echoes one of her country’s members of parliament and Deputy Minister of the Environment, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Wangari Muta Mzhathai, and says:
“Throughout Africa, women are the primary caretakers holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families. As a result, they are often the first to become aware of environmental damage as resources become scarce and incapable of sufficing for their families.”
Along with Practical Action Sudan, PAK also recognised that there can be no development without sustainable management of our resources ‘ beginning with waste.