Alerted to Hazards Posed by Open Dumping, Residents of Zambian Slum Advocate for Proper Waste Disposal

Residents of a densely populated Zambian slum have started initiatives aimed at keeping their environment clean.

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Alerted to Hazards Posed by Open Dumping, Residents of Zambian Slum Advocate for Proper Waste Disposal

Publication Date

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Emitting a deafening buzz, a swarm of flies greets visitors to Kanyama compound, one of the largest slums in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Even in the dry season, the streets of Kanyama run with smelly, green waters.

Heaps of garbage pile up at the entrance to the slum. Barefoot children climb over the heaps, scavenging with bare hands for any possible treasure. There are no public trash collection services here; residents say they have few alternatives to dumping their trash in the streets.

This is a picture Kanyama resident Boyd Nyoni wants to change. Unlike most of his neighbors, he always deposits his garbage at designated dump sites, he says. He encourages other residents to do the same.

Nyoni, 64, has lived in Kanyama since he was 5 years old. He used to think throwing trash in the street was normal and harmless, Nyoni says. In fact, he used to think of open trash piles as potentially valuable.

Nyoni’s grandchildren, like many children in the neighborhood, rooted through dump sites for things to be sold or recycled, he says.

“For us, it was normal for children to scavenge,” Nyoni says. “They sometimes came back with toys that they played with, and sometimes they came back with some useful materials, such as radio and TV spare parts.”

He didn’t realize the trash could be a threat to the children’s lives until 2010, when his grandson Bernard Nyoni suffered a bout of cholera after being exposed to bacteria commonly found in trash.

Cholera is most common in places with poor sanitation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between January and March 2010, the same period when Nyoni’s grandson contracted cholera, the World Health Organization recorded 4,464 cholera infections and 73 cholera-related deaths in Lusaka.

Boyd Nyoni says he is fortunate his grandson survived. Once the boy was well, Nyoni sought information from local health workers about hygiene, sanitation and garbage disposal. He even cleared away the garbage piled near his home.

Nyoni is among the Kanyama residents advocating for proper trash disposal, despite stubborn reactions from some neighbors.

Such individuals, along with community-based enterprises in Kanyama, have taken initiatives to keep the area clean by advocating for proper waste disposal. The organizations have employed residents to go from house to house collecting garbage, which they dump at designated sites.

The tens of thousands of people packed into Lusaka slums make unlawful trash dumping an enormous problem.

Lusaka province had a population of 2.2 million in 2010, the year of the most recent census.

The city had 37 unplanned settlements as of 2002, according to a World Bank report on low-income settlements in Zambia. About 70 percent of Lusaka’s population lives in unplanned settlements, according to the report.

More than 360,000 people live in Kanyama alone, according to the 2010 census.

Kanyama is densely populated and has no formal waste collection system. Residents say the lack of formal services and access to dump sites forces them to dump waste on the streets.

The practice is nonetheless illegal, says Brenda Katongola, assistant public relations manager for the Lusaka City Council.

When caught and cited, culprits are fined 20 kwacha ($3). In practice, police only cite flagrant violators, usually when a complaint is brought to them.

The law has not stopped some residents of Kanyama from dumping garbage in the streets.

One of the community-based organizations committed to keeping the slum clean is Kanyama Clean Initiative, founded in 2008. The organization pays slum residents a stipend to collect garbage around the community and dump it at designated places.

The organization’s 11 full-time employees then transport the garbage to Chunga dump site, Lusaka’s major dumping area. The dump is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Kanyama.

Households that participate in the program pay 20 kwacha ($3) a month to cover the cost of transporting the waste to the Chunga dump.

The slum’s sanitation has improved since the organization started, says Lackson Musoni, one of the Kanyama Clean Initiative employees who monitor designated dumping sites to ensure they are used only by paying participants in the program.

The group’s revenue has grown over the years, indicating that residents appreciate its services, he says.

“Some people pay and let us collect the garbage, but others say they can’t afford it, and those are the ones still littering the streets,” Musoni says.

Royce Bwalya, a vegetable vendor in Kanyama, says proper waste disposal is too expensive. Whenever her vegetables go bad, she simply dumps them on the streets, she says.

Bwalya, who says she is unaware of any health hazards garbage might cause, says litter is inevitable unless trash disposal is accessible and free.

“If these services can be completely free, who would even throw on the streets?” she says. “They should even make the disposal points very accessible. Who wants to make a trip as if she is going to get paid just to throw litter?”

Dorika Mwale, Bwalya’s neighbor, agrees. Expecting people to pay to dump trash when they can hardly afford to eat is unreasonable, she says.

“I honestly feel it is expensive to dispose waste in designated places,” Mwale says. “Look at how we are starving, and then you need more money for waste management.”

Poverty is widespread in Zambia, with 64 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

Ninety percent of Kanyama residents live below the poverty line, says Daniel Kalembe, an elected representative to the local council of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing.

In 2007, the Lusaka City Council started a campaign, Keep Zambia Clean, to educate Lusaka residents on the health hazards posed by throwing garbage on the streets. That same year, the council began providing refuse containers throughout the city to curb the indiscriminate dumping of waste, Katongola says.

Because the city lacks the resources to transport garbage to the Chunga dump, the Lusaka City Council relies on community enterprises such as Kanyama Clean Initiative to do the job, she says.

The Keep Zambia Clean campaign stresses that the ban on careless dumping will be rigorously enforced.

“Dumping garbage, anyhow, is a crime, and if found, one can be charged,” Katongola says. “We therefore encourage every community to be the council’s eye and effect citizen arrest on anyone found dumping garbage at undesignated areas.”

Kalembe is also working to curb the careless disposal of waste. Using a ward development fund, he plans to buy refuse bins that will be more accessible to all members of the community.

“I do this as a service to the people that voted for me, and I too need to be in a clean environment because I live here,” Kalembe says.

Despite resistance from residents such as Bwalya and Mwale, Boyd Nyoni remains determined to work for proper waste management.

He volunteers in hygiene sensitization campaigns initiated by the local government and the Ministry of Health. That work is especially important during the rainy season, he says.

“Apart from the daily informal talks with most community members, I get involved in the distribution of brochures during the outbreak of cholera in rainy season,” Nyoni says.

The slum is getting cleaner every day, he says.

Kalembe agrees. With continued efforts, Kanyama and the rest of Lusaka will become clean and disease-free, he says.



GPJ translated some interviews from Nyanja.