Urbanisation poses waste management challenge

The United Nations (UN) predicts that most African citizens will live in cities by 2050.

“Two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, posing unique infrastructural challenges for African and Asian countries, where 90 per cent of the growth is predicted to take place,” notes the UN.

Rural-urban migration and natural population growth rates in cities, asserts the UN, are the major causes of the increasing rate of urban growth as well as slum proliferation in Africa.

The United Nations Habitat says with most people migrating from rural areas to urban centres to look for economic opportunities, the pressure of service delivery on urban infrastructure is mounting on municipalities in Southern Africa, as well as other developing nations.

“While urbanisation has the potential to act as an engine of economic growth and human development – when properly planned for, but it also brings with it enormous challenges.

“Not least among these is the challenge of improving waste management services; as cities rapidly grow, so does the amount of waste that they generate,” said the UN Habitat.

The UN Habitat added that inappropriate policies have contributed to the growth of life- and health-threatening slums, where urban waste management services are often woefully inadequate.

Echoing same sentiments, Gilbert Mandanga, director of Green Africa Network, an organisation with a keen interest in community-driven development programmes, says uncollected garbage is the order of the day in most towns and cities in Southern Africa thanks to rapid urbanisation.

“Most towns continue to grow with open spaces allocated for both housing and commercial purposes, while more piles of waste dumps complement the growing urban sprawl.

“Though cities are traditionally engines of social transformation, economic growth and places for better standards of living, today’s urbanisation has brought with it severe environmental degradation, seasonal disease outbreaks that continue taking lives among the urban poor while decent living has deteriorated with each passing day,” he said.

Mandanga assets that high unemployment as well as poverty levels among urban populations influence the conversion of residential spaces for numerous economic activities at undesignated places.

For this reason, he adds, waste generation levels and disposal become uncontrolled.

“Apart from dealing with household waste, municipalities will then have to collect commercial waste that comes from such economic activities being conducted within residential areas,” he said.

However, Mandanga believes dealing with solid waste management challenges affecting towns and cities in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) requires serious political will.

“Since dealing with solid waste challenges requires political will, leaders in the region should support some level of residents’ participation in the planning and designing of solid waste systems,” he said.

Subscribing to Mandanga’s assertions, the African Development Bank (AfDB) believes political will as well as key reforms should be pursued by SADC governments to effectively deal with urbanisation as well as waste management issues.

“Key reforms should include upgrading informal settlements through the provision of integrated infrastructure and services that target marginalised groups, including the poor, youth, women and elderly people,” the AfDB said.

In addition, the multilateral institution urges SADC governments to be proactive to ensure orderly urban development by defining and implementing clear strategies and mobilising urban financing from local and foreign investors.

The UN Habitat believes the private sector’s role is vital in complementing the efforts of government sectors in waste management.

“The waste management ‘value chain’, which includes the collection, treatment, reuse, disposal and recycling of various waste streams, provides economic incentives that allow for the private sector to be an effective partner in environmental management,” the UN Habitat noted.

It added that the importance of micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in waste management is also vital.

“When appropriately supported, SMEs and small scale entrepreneurs can play an important role in solid waste management.

“While harmful waste in dump sites can be managed through appropriate incineration, small scale entrepreneurs can play a role in the recycling of less harmful wastes, including composting of the organic materials,” explained the UN Habitat.

Mandanga argues that rural and urban authorities in Southern Africa need to embrace Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a means to address service delivery challenges in today’s complex urban societies.

“Today’s ICT is providing an opportunity for effective communication between service providers and their customers (e-governance).

“E-governance makes municipalities competitive as they become accessible and as a result provide timeous response when required. Accordingly, municipalities must embrace modern technologies to address waste management issues,” he said.

Mandanga believes a multi-stakeholder approach is required; therefore, he urges communities and governments to collaborate when dealing with waste management as well as environmental issues.

Honestly, waste management challenges are some of the most pressing challenges in Southern Africa today.

Consequently, government sectors, rural and urban authorities as well as key stakeholders in the SADC region should effectively deal with urbanisation, solid waste as well as environmental issues to ensure that the member-states achieve their sustainable development goals.


July 2015
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