TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI
MASERU – The government remains unclear about how to go about the exercise, 20 years after plans to relocate the Maseru City Council (MCC) dumpsite at Ha Tšosane to Tšoeneng on the outskirts of the city were set in motion. Environmental contamination due to solid waste mismanagement at the dumpsite has for years become an issue of concern to the community members in the vicinity of the site because open dumping and open burning have been the mainstay of waste treatment and final disposal systems there.
And government has proved unable to contain the main impacts borne by waste mismanagement at the site, both on environmental contamination and social issues, leading to informal sector activities that bear numerous health risks due to waste scavenging. The narrative of the Ha Tšosane dumpsite has, as a result, become a national issue due to the different factors showing how the site’s several sources of pollution are affecting the environment, population health, and sustainable development.But, does government give treatment of the solid waste at the site, or its relocation, the attention it deserves?
Does government even know or has plans to that effect?
We know that poor and inappropriate municipal waste management practices have become a universal problem and have led to adverse impacts on the environment and human health, especially in developing countries, including Lesotho.
In the lowlands of the country, problems related to overpopulation, changing consumption patterns and limited waste management services have been escalating, and these have exacerbated the impact of inappropriate waste management methods such as those seen at Ha Tšosane. All activities at the dumpsite involve risks that either impact workers who are directly involved or members of the community. It is for this reason that the citizens resident in the area have taken the MCC to task, demanding that stopping treatment of solid waste management at the site be considered a priority.
Addressing residents in a public gathering earlier in April, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, which is responsible for environmental affairs – Limpho Tau – confirmed the wave of complaints the office has received regarding the dumpsite.
He said a similarly large number of private companies have also approach the office seeking to be engaged to manage the site.
Tau apologised for all previous governments for their failure to relocate the site as requested over the years, assuring the Ha Tšosane residents that the current government was committed to seeing the project through.
The minister further revealed that M300 million has been set aside for the dumpsite to be levelled and compacted, and indicated that he was on the verge of setting up an expert multi-sectoral stakeholders meeting, with the involvement of the residents, to explore strategies for a way forward and eventual relocation of the dumpsite.“I must, however, hasten to indicate that M450 million will be needed to make Tšoeneng a proper dumpsite free of the many hazards that emerged here at Ha Tšosane,” Tau said. He tore into the local government ministry for delays in addressing this issue as their responsibility, threatening that their continued failure will force his Ministry of Environment to take over the project.
On behalf of the local government minister Lebona Lephema, Principal Secretary Pokello Mahlomola said they were gravely concerned by the numerous complaints that have been forwarded to them yet no tangible steps have been taken.
He assured Ha Tšosane residents that before the end of the year a progress report would have been compiled and they will have the way forward.
Speaking at the same public gathering the Mayor of Maseru and Motimposo Ward Councillor, Tholang Sefojane, expressed regret at the many lives that have been lost as a result of poisoning, pollution and contamination of water sources because of the dumpsite. He urged government to avail funds for the timeous relocation of the site while also calling on government to prioritise the people of the area in allocating jobs for the levelling and compacting the site.
Residents who spoke at the gathering could not hide their frustration and anger at government for failing to give the relocation of the site the importance it deserves, narrating stories that led to the deaths of their next-of-kin from causes attributable to the site. Many felt it has become evident that government does not care or is clueless on how to deal with the matter. According to a study on five sites where open dumping and burning occurred in the country, none respects international and national guidelines. This is according to information obtained from officials as well as residents living in the vicinity of dumpsites or landfills in Botha-Bothe, Hlotse, Maputsoe, Berea and Maseru’s Ha Tšosane dumpsite.
The study revealed that all five of the councils under study had open dumpsites and the majority (76 percent) of the residents mentioned that waste was burned on site, while 76.7 percent of the residents said this was practised on a daily basis.
Almost half (46.7 percent) of the residents perceived that they were susceptible to health risks and it was revealed that gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases were prevalent at a rate of (44.1 percent) in these areas.
In light of the emergence of new waste streams due to industrialization, the establishment of comprehensive legislation that is in line with globally accepted waste disposal norms is a major requirement in Lesotho, the study showed.
And the study recommended that all the official disposal dumpsites under study need to be upgraded to functional landfills and they should be properly managed.
Health and safety promotion interventions and sustainable waste projects need to be introduced for the benefit of the country.
Risk awareness also needs to be enhanced among the communities in these councils and, therefore, local government structures should prioritise municipal solid waste management and encourage public involvement in appropriate and sustainable waste management, it further noted.
While nothing tangible can be highlighted in this regard, the government has made the first step to cut plastic pollution and to tackle climate change by formulating a law that holds businesses accountable for their waste.
A draft piece of legislation meant to end the scourge of harmful plastic pollution to protect the environment, communities and animals is being formulated. The legislation will also regulate plastic life-cycle and impose a levy on plastic entering the country. The step follows discovery that the existing environmental law is silent on plastic management.
According to the Ministry of Environment’s senior environment officer, Kobeli Tšasanyane, the Bill aims to ensure a plastic-free Lesotho which would not only be free from health impacts resulting from plastic pollution, but would also be a clean environment which will attract more tourists and investors while levy imposition is meant to discourage people from using plastic but rather opt for re-usable shopping bags.
He said through the Bill under formulation, the country will be able to determine the quality and quantity of plastic entering the country and its exporters. All stakeholders in the plastic management and use will be registered with the ministry and be known to the country so that they can easily be regulated as per the plastic regulations.
“With the Bill, plastic exporter and manufacturers will be documented by the government and a levy will be imposed on plastic entering the country. The aim of the plastic levy is not to make money, but to discourage people from using plastic. People are encouraged to rather use reusable bags that they can only buy once,” he points out. The Bill is likely to give hope to Ha Tšosane residents, who to a degree applaud the envisaged imposition of penalties and a tight system to monitor dumpsites.
For over two decades now, these community members have been pleading for intervention from those in authority, to no avail.
The dumpsite in their midst remains an albatross around their necks and a stark reminder of authorities’ lacklustre approach to effective waste management. Like a ticking time bomb, the dumpsite is a constant reminder of the potential health threats symbolised by the thick putrid smell emanating from constantly burning waste.
The community alleges some among them have already lost their lives while today others are struggling with sicknesses resulting from the poorly managed dumpsite. Fear of unknown ills pervades the unhealthy environment and remains at the back of everyone’s mind here. A member of the Tšosane Development Committee, ’Matumisang Mojela, recently told Public Eye that her life has been negatively affected by the dumpsite.
She says the dumpsite has not only contaminated their water but also emits smoke that has seen many people falling sick and she is not an exception as she has had several episodes of illness.
Mojela says the stench and smoke coming from the dumpsite makes the villagers unable to live a healthy life as they cannot even open their doors or windows to allow fresh air into their homes.
Even worrying, she says, is the fact that the waste is not classified. Not only does some of the waste often explode but they also find dead bodies of children at the dumpsite.
The community has been pleading with the government to relocate the dumpsite for years, but the good news is that the struggle of the communities around the Ha Tšosane dumpsite will soon come to an end.
In celebration of World Water Day this year the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) visited the Ha Tšosane village to render support and listen to residents’ pleas to have the dumpsite removed from their area.
World Water Day is celebrated on March 22 annually, to spread awareness about crisis all over the world. The theme this year is ‘Accelerating the change to solve the water and sanitation crisis.’
During the commemoration TRC representative, Lira Theko, indicated that the human rights body prioritised Ha Tšosane and Tšenola in light of the garbage dumping site which has become a health hazard to them.
He said the organisation has to date been in talks with the Ministry of Local Government over the relocation of the site to the earmarked Tšoeneng – but noted all has come to naught.
“Some villagers say relocating the dumping site will bring challenges as many people make a living through it. Those that the site impacts negatively on think it will be wise if it is relocated for their well-being.
“On the other hand, even the Tšoeneng community thinks the site will also bring trouble for them,” he said. According to a 2008 draft of the Lesotho/Maseru Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, the city’s waste management efforts have failed to keep up with its growing population and industrialisation.
The draft states that the current waste management practices are unsustainable resulting in damage of the city’s natural resources (including its drinking water supply) and to the health of its residents, while potentially reusable and recyclable resources are being wasted. On the other hand, the 2006 baseline assessment for the development of an integrated solid management system in the city estimated that annually 110 000 tonnes of waste were generated in Maseru, with the commercial sector producing 38 percent, and the residential sector 34 percent, representing the largest waste generating sources, with the remaining 40 000 tonnes generated by the industrial (19 percent), administrative (six percent) educational (one percent) and health care (<1 percent).
The United Nations Institute for Training and Research notes that Lesotho generates 137 510 tonnes of waste per year, of which an average of 20 percent falls within the collection system, whereas 80 percent is uncounted for, being either illegally dumped or ends up in open burning practices.