By DAVE CHIBESA
AFTER a sudden crackdown on the marauding cholera epidemic in Lusaka following a Presidential decree, the city’s economy virtually came to a lull recently.
Hordes of former street vendors were holed-up in their homes as a combined team of Lusaka City Council (LCC), Zambia Army and Zambia Air Force personnel took the bull by the horns by cleansing the city’s Central Business District (CBD).
The spectre spread to outlying townships where heaps of garbage were systematically removed.
As could be seen by the average observer, the piles of refuse had accumulated over years during which cholera had had a seasonal occurrence.
But the latest round of the disease had risen in intensity that left fatalities while many were treated.
However, at the stroke of midnight after New Year’s Eve, the status quo had to change as it was time to brush up the city.
An empirical estimation would contend that more than 95 per cent of the workforce stayed away from the CBD instantly after New Year’s Eve.
A straining legwork stint through Chawama, Misisi, John Laing and John Howard saw heightened cleansing activity by a combined team of Lusaka City Council (LCC), Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force and Zambia National Service (ZNS) personnel.
In the townships, the cleaning exercise compelled residents to fill up sacks with refuse which they dumped by the roadsides for later collection by army trucks.
It was a common sight to see unsuspecting ‘intruders’ who strayed into ‘cleansing zones’ to be ‘conscripted’ into cleaning teams for a spell.
Hindsight provided clues to the effect that garbage levels had accumulated over decades to a point of saturation, thus the sudden clean-up operation was deemed to rid the environment of only about a third of the long-term pile-up.
It would also be essential in this respect to recall that in the past, councils provided bins which were emptied periodically.
Trash was emptied into refuse trucks for disposal to designated waste disposal sites such as the Chunga waste dump near Matero.
The system was particular exemplary on the Copperbelt were mining companies of the day made townships exclusively sanitary.
Today, however, the opposite is evident.
Refuse collection has become a major challenge for councils who keep singing their swan song of lacking funds and hence heaping blame on the local government system.
In the long run, various undertakings such as the sewage and storm drainage systems have gone down the drain.
In some cases, drainages are non-existent.
At the moment, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) seems to have come to the rescue by courtesy of the United States (US) government.
But still, provision of contaminated drinking water and drainage of industrial effluent in some respects had remained a serious challenge in many urban centres inland.
At the height of the cholera upsurge, Lusaka townships saw mobile health personnel dispensing sodium chlorite (chlorine) to residents who were instructed to add this chemical to their drinking water.
In this context, it would also be rational to conclude that the colossal problem then begins with high density areas.
A delve into the past reveals that clean-up operations, although mainly focused on security and illegal migration, were done on a township by township basis.
In this light, it would be helpful to note that Lusaka begins – as a province – trickling down to districts, townships and then the CBD at the tail end.
In the flurry of the cholera scare, the Government had to order the closure of tertiary level institutions, including delaying the reopening of secondary and basic schools which were due for the first term, as hygienic messages filled the air via electronic media and newspapers.
Meanwhile, township traders were subjected to reduced hours of business in a bid to curb the spread of the cholera epidemic.
On the overall, average public opinion seemed to point at the local authority which over the years seemed to have surrendered its mandate through the Waste Management Unit (WMU) and franchised waste collectors.
It is also evident that garbage heaps littered in various townships of the city have accumulated over time and would do with perhaps restructuring the WMU with its grandiose operative system that smacks of capitalist idealism.
The current scenario has been like privatising a statutory obligation that somewhat makes the WMU look like a square peg in a round hole.
This operative format appears to have rendered it incapable of timely responding to reduction of cumulative rubbish strewn in the townships and marketplaces in the city.
In recent times, the WMU provided skips in townships which later spilled over with garbage, coupled with irregular removals of attendant waste until the metallic refuse containers finally disappeared…
A closer study of a typical township refuse dump gives the impression of being ‘no one’s responsibility’ as the heap expands over time to a level where it needs a grader to be removed.
Plastic waste has also proved to be in the forefront of being a waste generation factor that has become a common disposable wrapper in the world of commercial consumerism and ranges from carrier bags to disposable plastic bottles.
These call for the installation of special bins especially in the CBD where it complements paper – as a wrapper – apart from other forms of solid waste.
For lack of waste disposal bins, paper and plastic have found their way on to the streets and open spaces.
Now that a new wind had swept through the first class trading area of the city, corrective measures ought to be initiated before the situation degenerates into the previous one at least by the way of litter.
Skips that were withdrawn from crowded places like markets perhaps ought to be re-introduced as a deterrent to further garbage generation in the city.
Reasons that led to withdrawal of skips from circulation should have answers worked out to problems that entailed their removal and a more reliable refuse collection system introduced other than emergency piecemeal measures.
The old adage principally asserts that prevention is better than cure and in this vein, timely collection of refuse seems to spell the only hope for a healthier environment for all citizens in Lusaka.
Commuters from the capital were recently stigmatised as hailing from an ‘infected’ city and hence the ‘violence of being shunned’ was unleashed on them.