Mzedi city landfill a decade past expiration date

Nsogoja villagers tell of life amid rubbish

Less than ten kilometres east of Blantyre the Mzedi city landfill stands dilapidated and overflowing, having out-lived its lifespan by approximately ten years, expired like the unsorted refuse it no longer has the capacity to contain.

The humid air burps with odour and buzzes with the sound of thousands of flies.  Scavengers – man and animal – can be spotted sifting through the rubbish for items to re-sell.

Just 200 metres from the dump’s unenclosed walls, the people of Nsogoja Village, one of four villages surrounding the site, are still waiting for local government to address the problems that the landfill is causing.

“The landfill brings us a lot of problems,” said Joyce Sathawa of Nsogoja.  “Flies are everywhere as you can see which is not healthy, and the stench is just unpleasant.”

Sathawa said day to day life is uncomfortable because the flies can’t be avoided, especially when cooking and eating.

Nsogoja villager Janet Grant and her child sit amongst fly-covered serving plates - commonplace for communities located near the dilapidated Mzedi dump site. Photo by Karissa Gall

Another villager, Janet Grant, said she wished the landfill would be moved to prevent people from collecting and re-selling food and other items that are dumped there.

“Although some people benefit from [the landfill] by selling what they get from there, us who live close see it as a bad practice.  Those things are wastes and are meant to be destroyed and not consumed or used by people.

“The same people who come to collect food and other items from the landfill are the ones who roam around and steal from the villagers,” said Grant.

According to the villagers people have come to rely on the landfill for re-selling dumped items which are meant to be destroyed – items that are expired and unfit for human consumption or use.

The villagers also said accidents have occurred due to squabbling for items at the landfill.

“Some children recently got burnt when trying to collect items that were set on fire at the landfill,” said Grant, adding that some children have stopped going to school because they spend most of their time waiting for dump trucks at the landfill.

Grant fetches water from the nearest water source - a pipe-fed stream routinely contaminated by dump site scavengers. Photo by Karissa Gall

Village Headman Nsogoja worried for the health of the people especially during the rainy season.

“When it is raining water from the landfill drains into streams which are used for drinking and we do not have reliable boreholes,” he said.

The headman said they reported to their Member of Parliament on their desire to have the landfill moved and are waiting for action to be taken.

According to Director of Town Planning Costly Chanza, the city planning and engineering departments are currently working to create a new landfill as part of an integrated land use development on government-owned land south of Blantyre in Chigumula.

Chanza said the Chigumula development will include 500 residential plots, a commercial area and a new landfill with a fence and a separate entry point.

However, citing financial and planning issues, he said it will be another five years until the new landfill is operational.

“We should have relocated [the landfill] by now,” said Chanza.  “But the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the road plans we are doing, the infrastructure, everything costs a lot of money.”

In the meantime, Chanza said the engineering department will be digging pits and compacting garbage at the active landfill site.

Director of Health and Social Services Dr. Kanjunjunju echoed Chanza by saying that city council is doing “periodic collecting and compacting of waste into the proper site,” but said that “on the problem of the flies and scavengers we are not actively doing anything.”

He said the city hires a private company to “doze” or cover the garbage at the landfill with earth twice a year as a way to mitigate flies and the smell, “which is far from the best practice.”

“We cannot afford to doze more frequently because it’s a very big cost to hire that machinery,” he said, estimating that the city spends 10 million mK just to doze bi-annually.

Without the funds to doze more frequently, Kanjunjunju said the city had been considering installing a “fly trap” in the area.  However, he said, rains interfered with testing the box-like trap in October of 2011.  There has been no action taken to re-test the trap.

To address the problem of the scavengers polluting the local water source and putting themselves at risk, Kanjunjunju said the city could consider civic education in the future.

“Maybe [the scavengers] can choose representatives and we can sit here and try to make them understand what damage they are doing to the surrounding community,” he said.  “But we have not planned yet for such kind of a meeting.

“It’s unfortunate that maybe we have been carried away by other challenges, fuel issues,” he said.  “We have put much focus on trying to get fuel, trying to get transportation to collect garbage from the city.

“Addressing the issue of the landfill suffered.  The attention that we gave was not that good.  But we started the process so I feel that maybe we can cover attention to that problem.  The problem will be addressed.”

With files from the Sunday Times‘ Ruth Mputeni

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About karissagall

Karissa Gall is a Canadian journalist.

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