By Evance Odhiambo

Solid waste management in African countries remains a serious challenge with available data by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) showing that the Sub-Saharan Africa alone generates approximately 180 million tonnes annually in the Sub-Saharan Africa yet only 11% is disposed of properly.

According to Dr. Shipra Narang Suri, Chief Urban Practices Branch at UN-Habitat, urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa is the highest in the world and this has led to increase in solid waste generation. She said that cities in Africa are expected to lead in waste generation in the next 20 to 50 years.

Speaking virtually to a session on waste management at the Africities Summit in Kisumu, Kenya, Dr. Suri said that open burning of solid waste is still a major challenge in African cities.

‘’Dumpsites will account for 8 to 10% of global human ailments by 2025. In Nairobi, a study by UNEP found out that 50% of children living around Dandora dumpsite have high amount of lead in their blood,’’ she posed.

Dr. Suri said that UNEP, UN-Habitat and the Ministry of Environment of Japan as well as 24 African cities have established clean cities platform. The platform she said is aimed at promoting investment in solid waste management to realize clean cities in Africa by 2030.

‘’40 countries in Africa are currently members of the platform. I invite all cities to join the platform so that we can conduct joint solid waste management in our cities,’’ says Dr. Suri.

Dr. Shipra speaking virtually

Dr. Monica Gail McDevette who is the Chief Chemicals and Health officer at UNEP said that African cities must adopt circular economy as a way of managing waste.

She told the participants, virtually, that there is urgent need for cities to practice 5Rs in waste management that include: rethinking, refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling of waste. Recycling is an opportunity that she noted is not fully tapped by African cities leadership.

She added that improving collection and transportation of waste should be a number one priority in solid waste management.

‘’It is high time African cities ensure environmentally safe disposal as well as making long-term strategic plans considering waste management,’’ says Dr. Gail.

Dr. Ngongang

Poor waste management has led to other forms of pollution witnessed in African cities. Every year, around 7 million deaths globally are due to exposure from air pollution, According to Dr. Ngongang Danube, a Technical Air Quality Expert at UNEP.

Linking this to open burning of waste, he said that the unchecked open burning of solid waste in Africa is fueling illness, premature death and climate change and this need to be stopped if African countries need to cut emissions and sustainable development within the 2020s. He said that instead of burning the wastes, they should be recycled.

‘’The African Union has set an ambitious target for African cities to recycle at least half of their waste by 2023. The goal can be met and even surpassed with a shift of organic waste to composting and bioenergy recovery along with refurbishment, repair, reuse and recycling of plastics, paper, metal, glass, tires and electronic waste,’’ says Dr. Ngongang.

He said that to fight open waste burning, there is need by cities in Africa to include the informal waste recyclers who are already getting waste back into the African economy, as well as national governments, cities and development partners.

Dr. Ngongang said that attempting to address the problem of open burning of waste through piecemeal and isolated intervention at one or another point of waste management systems would neither be effective nor efficient.

He noted that phasing out both deliberate and spontaneous open burning of waste would require bringing about a more transformational change in waste management system in Africa.

‘’Such a transition would need a proper shift in the solid waste management hierarchy towards an integrated solid waste management system that gives preference to prevention and circularity over disposal,’’ says Dr. Ngongang.