Will Malawi cities, towns ever be sustainably clean?

Malawi has been lagging behind in general socio-economic development due in part to lack of political will and inadequate resources in various important sectors, including protecting the environment for future use. Recycling of waste is one way of protecting the environment under severe resource constraints. However, slow progress is being made in terms of recycling waste products.

I make this observation after appreciating the poor conditions our towns and cities are in at the moment. A quick round trip in the heart of Lilongwe City will instantly tell you how much we Malawians have failed to properly manage our surroundings. For instance, last month I was bewildered to witness a dumpsite behind the elegant mansions situated around Bunda turnoff (the so-called 6 miles) and outskirts of Area 24 borders. The stench of the surroundings is too appalling to say the least. It is a good indicator of the national state of affairs regarding protection of the environment after 20 years of democracy.

I think it is high time Malawi started thinking of recycling as a way forward with regards to waste management. Much has been argued about the bureaucracy of government regarding the release of funds to local councils in order to address sanitary issues. However, it is paramount that we protect the environment in which we all obtain socio-economic benefits. After all, we need to think of the next generation’s welfare. At this rate, what kind of Malawi are we going to leave for posterity?

Recycling: The way forward for Malawi
Recycling: The way forward for Malawi

With the ever increasing population, thanks to the high fertility rate, it does not require rocket science to know that piling up of waste product will be increasing proportionately. How we choose to deal with the waste is of essence because it has both negative and positive impacts. Negligence of waste management leads to more water, noise and many other forms of pollution. If we are proactive in addressing the matters regarding waste management through conventional means such as recycling rather than waiting for trash to build up then we have prospects for healthier and clean surroundings in the long run.

May I implore all Malawians to practice proper waste management especially at household level and keep their surroundings clean? Let us develop a “clean culture” and the Ministry of Local Government should learn from Rwanda how their counterparts there successfully nurture and groom the “clean culture”. Their streets are clean from cities to rural towns and villages. We have a sorry state in Malawi where people would chew sugarcane anyhow and litter the roads all over the place and we all just watch. We have to get started engaging tough gears. Let this be one of the key performance indicators for the newly elected councilors and mayors.

The government needs to prepare policies and laws making it illegal to dispose of plastics anyhow, littering the surrounding. There is need for proper enforcement through introduction of high levies on plastic bags or bottles to discourage consumption of these commodities in large quantities. In other countries, including Rwanda, they have successfully outlawed plastic bags in shops. The local councils need to explore more avenues whereby the citizens will be able to help keep their surroundings clean and enforce stiff penalties that make people realize that it is not worth it to “mess up the surroundings”.

Politicians should join hands with councilors and speak one voice, continuously and consistently on matters of developing a “clean culture”, as it takes a long time to break strongholds and change people’s mindsets. Most initiatives fail because some politicians engage reverse gears on tough measures that can move the country forward once they perceive that there is political mileage in doing so.

But what they fail to realize is that their negative voices give proof to the people that such politicians have low quality standards and are both myopic and mediocre. Government should intensify efforts to collect and recycle paper and plastic waste in order to keep our surroundings beautiful and pleasant for investment and convenient for raising our children. I also call upon the citizenry of Malawi who are dwelling in the appalling surroundings to be proactive, recycle and maintain a clean culture for the benefit of Malawi in many years to come.

Note: The author works with Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) and article is his  personal opinion with regards to recycling.

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