Jeffrey Gogo Climate
2019 started off rather positively for the environment sector. The National Clean-Up campaign of January 4 beguiled many, but it isn’t a fluke. It was the first such campaign — which will now be held every first Friday of each month — to mop up dirt off Zimbabwe’s environs since President Mnangagwa gave the node for the countrywide clean-ups in December.
Many such events are to come up in the future. They have become a permanent feature on Zimbabwe’s environment calendar. They needed to.
The amount of litter in the streets of cities like Harare is shameless and doesn’t require much introduction. But the abundant dirt also goes to show what kind of a people we have become — reckless lovers of dirt, if not by choice then by whatever means.
The problems can be traced back both to careless individual attitudes, but more importantly, to poor service delivery by municipalities, remarkably inept local governments whose inefficiency stinks — like the streets they run — to the high heavens.
These are the indisputable numbers: Zimbabweans in towns and cities produce an average 2 356 tonnes of garbage everyday or 859 940 per year — that’s enough waste to cover the surface of more than half a dozen football pitches.
All countries produce a certain amount of waste. Our problem is that it isn’t disposed of properly, in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Only 52 percent of the waste generated in Zimbabwe is ever collected and disposed properly by municipalities, according to a 2014 report by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).
The rest is either burnt, buried underground or dumped anywhere, said the environment regulator, which puts Zimbabwe’s urban solid waste at 614 000 tonnes per year, 28 percent below the World Bank’s estimates.
Uncollected solid waste is usually a key contributor to flooding in cities and towns, and to air and water pollution. Such waste tends to clog waterways and canals, flooding streets and homes.
This is part of the dirt that was in focus throughout the country on January 4. And President Mnangagwa put his money where his mouth is. His pictures on TV in full clean-up gear at Harare’s Fife Ave shopping centre, broom in hand doing the actual cleaning, demonstrated leadership in environmental stewardship and protection. Elsewhere, his wife was due to lead a similar campaign in the second city of Bulawayo.
“Wacleaner chii nhasi iwe? (What have you cleaned today?)” President Mnangagwa engages a young boy, probably around five years old.
“Ndatsvaira mumba. (I have cleaned my room),” the boy replies, all smiles, overwhelmed by the occasion to have been chatted up by the country’s President.
“That’s good enough,” the President appreciates the boy’s efforts, as he proceeded to engage with other potential shoppers within the area.
One particular approach to ED’s clean-up gesture stands out. He wasn’t just sweeping the streets in silence, he was talking, engaging the public on the importance of maintaining litter and waste-free environments at all times.
So, it was action followed by a corresponding message, a call to action.
“If you don’t believe my word, then believe the work I’m doing,” he seemed to say.
Indeed, there is sufficient litter on the country’s pavements, alleys and other public spaces for each Zimbabwean to clean up. This is not something we are proud of as a nation. It is totally disgusting and humiliating. There are pleasant examples to follow, like Rwanda’s Kigali, arguably the smartest city on the African continent. Citizens take turns to clean up Kigali, a sort of mandatory duty. The results have been astonishing.
Here, the initiative is voluntary. Perhaps a need will arise in future to consider making that mandatory.
But until then, a lot of work will need to be done to engender such a sense of responsibility in a people who believe in municipalities being sole responsible authorities for keeping cities and towns garbage-free.
The World Bank report that produced Zimbabwe’s garbage statistics expects solid waste to more than double to 5 277 tonnes by 2025 here due to a steady rise in urbanisation and economic development.
By then, over 7,5 million people will be staying in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities compared to the current 4,4 million at the moment.
So, the job is essentially cut out for every citizen. This is crucial in light of the huge amount of methane, a potent climate change-causing gas, that the entire process of littering, collecting (and mostly uncollected) produces, and feeding the vicious cycle of climate change.