Zimbabwe fights tide of rubbish
BULAWAYO // At the side of the southern entrance to Mkambo market in Makokoba suburb is a stack of smelly rubbish, almost one and half metres high. Dwarfed by the heap of rubbish is Precious Mlilo, 36, who sits by daily, roasting corn cobs she sells to earn a living. More heaps of uncollected garbage ring the busy market. Young boys, unshod and shirtless, play soccer along the road, sometimes climbing the heap of garbage to collect a stray ball.
A few metres away, at St Patrick's Roman Catholic Parish, a burst pipe spews sewage, which flows along the side of the road into a nearby stream. Mrs Mlilo is unworried by the unsanitary surroundings that make some visitors uncomfortable. "The garbage is my neighbour. There is no problem. I am used to it. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. It is better now, they collect the refuse once or twice a month," she said.
Bulawayo municipality, the country's second largest with 1.5 million people, is failing to collect refuse, repair roads and sewer pipes. This has angered residents who feel that the municipality is shortchanging them by levying for non-existent services. The situation in Harare, the capital city, is worse. The eastern half of the city has been receiving water erratically for years; a situation that health experts say precipitated an outbreak of typhoid, which killed five people in the populous Mabvuku suburb in February and infected hundreds.
During the past nine years of economic crisis, towns and cities effectively stopped discharging some of their responsibilities such as collecting rubbish, providing clean water and attending to burst sewer pipes and damaged inner-city roads. The situation has barely gotten better despite the modest economic improvement. Uncollected garbage is strewn in alleys and street corners. Streams of sewage are also common while roads are suffering neglect.
August Kambudzi, 70, a Makokoba resident who sells used clothes, said the dirt provides an ideal habitat for mosquitoes and rodents. "Bulawayo city council collects rates from us monthly, but I can't remember seeing their dustmen here this year," he said. "Many people are suffering from malaria in this suburb as a result. There will be a catastrophe if the environment remains unclean. Rats can be dangerous if left uncontrolled especially during this dry season of the year."
A large rodent population can be a threat to food security as the animals can eat entire granaries. Rats can also be lethal because of their droppings, if they get in contact with human food, can cause diseases like diarrhoea and salmonella. Because it cannot collect refuse, Bulawayo municipality encourages residents to dig pits in their backyards, in which to deposit household dirt. It has sunk boreholes from where people fetch water in buckets as opposed to getting it on tap in their houses.
Michelle Macmillan, a Bulawayo resident, said in a recent article in the local daily newspaper, the Chronicle: "Where is the road levy going? I certainly don't see any improvement on the roads. Bulawayo is filthy. Street sweepers need only a broom and pan - nothing fancy. On the rare occasions I have seen street sweepers, they sweep litter into the drains. Roads are full of stones and debris, adding to the pothole problem. Why did a new car for the mayor take precedence over providing services to your ratepayers?"
The Combined Harare Residents' Association recently implored the municipality in the capital to collect refuse more frequently, to avoid possible disease outbreaks. "In areas such as Mabvuku," said the association in a statement, "residents say refuse was last collected in February 2009. The piles of refuse have provided conducive breeding grounds for mosquitoes and rats and residents fear for their health."
Harare, Bulawayo and Chitungwiza councils were condemned recently for apparently spending much of their budgets on salaries and benefits for councillors and municipal workers, ignoring service delivery. The official car of Muchadeyi Masunda, the mayor of Harare, is worth US$167,000 (Dh613,000). The car of his Bulawayo counterpart, Thaba Moyo, car cost $65,000. In Chitungwiza, the council spends $700,000 on salaries although its monthly revenue is $800,000.
Mr Moyo defended the purchase of his car and his council's record in service provision. "We are coming from a very challenging economic environment and you can't expect us to be operating properly yet," he said. "Nonetheless, we are trying to give residents a service as far as we possibly can. We have increased the frequency of refuse collection to once every two weeks from zero. Roads are being attended to, by way of patching potholes. So the criticism is unfounded. Some of the critics are not even paying rates. Residents owe the council $60 million US. They can help us improve service if they also play their part by settling their debts."
Updated: June 28, 2010 04:00 AM