Two weeks ago, I shared my observation in this column that the collection of waste in the neighborhood had stagnated. It turns out the stagnation is not limited to the neighborhood I live in but spread to most parts of the city. Drive around town and heaps of sacks with waste are found on the corners of streets and along the roads.
Normally, domestic waste is collected from residences by groups of hard working youngsters, who sort the waste to a certain extend and bring it to collection points from where trucks take it to the city’s main waste dump and processing plant. No more. Instead, the garbage heaps left on the streets are growing by the week.
I do not know the precise reasons behind this sudden abortion of waste collection, so I will not go into that. It may have something to do with the end of one financial year and the beginning of another and a gap in contracting service providers, but I don’t really know. I know one thing though and that is that the job is not being done, which is not a good thing. Let us look a bit into the consequences of not taking collected waste and garbage out of the way.
First, waste is any substance that is considered not useful in the home, industry and environment and can be harmful to human health. It is normally classified into solid and liquid waste.
Waste management then refers to the way waste is handled, collected, transported, re-used, recycled or recovered (for production of energy or fertilizer). Remaining waste will finally be disposed of in a landfill. Now, if waste management is poor, we may expect negative impacts on human health and the environment indeed, some of which are:
Uncollected waste left anywhere on the ground will result in unsanitary conditions especially during the rainy season, which we are now in the middle of.
Polluted water flowing from waste dumps and disposal sites will cause serious pollution for the surface water and the surrounding environment.
Flies and mosquitoes will breed in some constituents of solid wastes; flies and rats are very effective vectors that spread disease.
Dangerous items such as broken glass, razor blades, needles and other healthcare wastes pose risks of injury or poisoning, particularly to children and people who are engaged in waste sorting and handling.
Burning waste, as is often done in Addis Abeba as well, can result in major air pollution, affecting human health by causing respiratory disease and the risk of fire can spread to the adjacent properties, and make disposal sites dangerous.
Harmful substances will accumulate and become a breeding ground for bacterial diseases, a place where pathogenic parasites can grow.
Now this quick and dirty list is far from complete and experts will be in a position to add many more issues but it gives an impression of the hazards residents are exposed to in the neighborhood and beyond. Polluted water will find its way far beyond the location of the site where the waste is left to rot. I see children playing around and with the garbage, I see stray dogs eating from it, I see the garbage being spread all over the area as the bags are torn apart and rain washes the dirt through the streets. In fact, a disaster is waiting to happen if no action is taken quickly. This is how diseases break out in a city.
Finally, from a quality of life and economic point of view, everyone wants to live in and visit places that are clean, fresh and healthy. A city with poor sanitation, that is smelly and has waste matter lying around all over the place is not attractive and will keep visitors and investors away, in the end harming the economy. And cities that do not invest in recycling and proper waste control also miss out on revenue from recycling, job opportunities that come from recycling, composting and businesses that work with them. There is money to be made from waste. Let us not waste it!