Zambia’s Waste Management System in Shambles

By Singy Hanyona

LUSAKA, Zambia, August 20, 2001 (ENS) - Zambia’s high prevalence of environmentally related diseases such as dysentry and cholera are a direct result of water pollution and inadequate sanitation, say the African country's environmental experts and government officials.

Environmental authorities have cited waste littering, fecal matter, dumping into ground water which is used for drinking, pests and vermin found in littered waste as sources of concern. The Leopards Hill Cemetery, the largest burial site in Zambia’s capital Lusaka, is contaminated by decomposing bodies.

A vivid description of the discomfort and problems associated with environmental deterioration is given by Vundika Malembeka, a 35 year old single mother of five children in Kanyama compound in Lusaka. Sanitation in Malembeka’s house is pathetic, with only one pit latrine shared by over 10 tenants, each with a household as large as hers.

"The house is too small and my children are growing. It has no windows, so we keep the door open to try and get some fresh air. The pit latrine has no doors and there is no way of preventing passersby from using it," said Malembeka.


Zambian Environment Minister Bothwell Nyangu (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Since there is no nearby source of tap water, drinking water is collected from a shallow well about 400 meters (1,300 feet) away, where many children with dirty plastic containers can be seen pushing one another to be the first to draw water.

This case illustrates the fact that, despite various programs and projects that have been implemented by government, international organizations, individuals and communities, most of the people still live in deplorable conditions.

The three million inhabitants of Lusaka produce over 250,000 tons of garbage per year, according to the Lusaka City Solid Waste Management Situation Analysis Report.

Zambia has recently developed a National Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PSRP) in an attempt to avert the pollution of natural waterways and inadequate sanitation.

University of Zambia Professor Emmanuel Chidumayo, who is facilitator of the environmental component of the PSRP, agrees that the use of pit latrines in urban areas poses a serious threat to human health.

In his situational analysis of environment and poverty in Zambia, Professor Chidumayo says unsafe garbage and sewage disposal contribute to environmental deterioration, a situation that undermines sustainable development.

Zambia’s strategy for poverty reduction and environmental health aims at improving the country's water supply and sanitation by the year 2012.

The Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), a governmental implementing agency is also developing a National Waste Management Strategy. The Waste Management Unit of the ECZ is one of the operational units of the Council.

The goal of the strategy is to put in place an effective and sustainable waste management system by 2005.

The strategy seeks to improve legislation, treatment and disposal of waste so that human health and environment are not endangered.


Rehabilitated well in Zambia, a source of clean drinking water (Photo courtesy Zambian Ministry of Environment)
ECZ Director James Phiri says in Zambia, as in many other African countries, local authorities lack the capacity to handle waste.

"What we are trying to do is to transform the environmental problem of waste into a development process that can lead to the establishment of new jobs and investment," Phiri said.

Lack of planning, poor public attitude and insufficient government commitment have been identified as key elements to poor waste management. The situation extends to markets, barbershops, residential areas, bus stops, medical institutions, commercial and industrial areas.

Under the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990, the Waste Management Unit of the ECZ is mandated to implement measures for sound management and control of generation, transportation, treatment, recycling and disposal of waste.

ECZ attorney Aswell Chisanga says Zambia's Constitution does not explicitly provide for a clean environment as a right. This right can only be provided by making appropriate amendments to the Constitution.