Lilongwe, Malawi’s fastest growing city

Lilongwe –  The 2008 Housing and Population Census (HPC) has described Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city as the country’s largest and fastest growing city in Malawi with 670, 000 people. It is growing at the rate of of 4.3 percent per year. The city has in recent years witnessed mass migration rural areas with poor agriculture harvests and limited land resources forcing rural people to flock into urban spaces in search economic opportunities making it one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The trend has however, pressed a panic button in the environmental sector where sanitation in solid and liquid waste management has become a heavy municipal burden. The development follows a President decree when President Bingu wa Mutharika ordered that all government business be transferred to the city, a departure from the country’s two previous governments who operated from the country’s commercial Mecca, Blantyre. Monitoring and evaluation office of Community Servings Investment Promotion (COMSIP) statics show that the city generates 109 tonnes of solid waste per day; of the total, 15 percent comes from industries, 25 percent from commercial areas, 20 percent from hospitals and 40 percent from residential areas. “Being the country’s fastest growing city due to rural-urban immigration, there are increased challenges in solid waste management on the part of the assembly as there is little or no participation from the community,” said Moses Chirambo an environmental expert. According to the city assembly statistics, only 30 percent of the refuse is collected to the damp site, 10 percent of this waste was found to be of plastic in nature which translates to 15 tonnes of plastic material generated and damped into the environment daily. “Waste bins are not located at strategic points within the city which is also another reason that we found a lot of heaps of waste in the city,” said Chirambo who is also Director of Foundation of Irrigation for Sustainable Development (FISD). The collection from medium and high income areas is regular while in low income areas households’ dispose of waste in pits on their plots or at skip sites where carrier vehicles collect waste from except at the market sites and squatter areas where there is no collection. “The Assembly provides free waste collection service to residential areas and other public institutions but at a fee to commercial and industrial institutions. “Frequency of collection is limited to once a week due to limited number of vehicles. Collection and transportation is done using refuse compactor vehicles, skip carrier vehicles, trucks and caterpillar for loading after gathering by physical sweeping,” said Allan Kwanjana Deputy Director of Cleansing Services of the Lilongwe City Assembly. Kwanjana said although waste disposal is done at a landfill site, sanitary landfill is done crudely and undermined by problems of lack of machinery to dig trenches and for compacting. On liquid waste management, fresh water quality in Malawi is greatly affected by human activities, like agriculture, effluent discharge and refuses dumping. The contamination of these water resources could also be attributed to the poor sanitation facilities, frequent break down, overloading. “Waste from factories and market sites which is mostly uncollected find its way in Lilongwe River which is used mostly by the vendors for cooking and some people downstream thereby polluting the river and putting the lives of people at risk, “said Chirambo He said there is need for companies to have waste water treatment systems unlike dumping them in the rivers. “The waste has some elements which when disposed in the river they are harmful to the biodiversity and the people who use it,” he said. Kwanjana said the city faces problems like limited resources, capacity, public attitudes and willingness to spend on waste, fast growing urban population which surpasses provided social facilities, administrative machinery and social-political influence. “Our initiative is on community involvement through workshops for Members of Assembly, consultative meetings with stakeholders, radio programmes on sanitation, writing to residents. “We are also planning to review of waste management By-Laws to take into account current democratic freedoms and also to conduct clean up campaigns,” said Kwanjana.

August 2010
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