Cameroon: Unauthorized Disposal of waste to blame for disease outbreaks

At least 400 tonnes of uncollected garbage, blamed on inaccessibility to some quarters, accumulate in Douala every day.

Garbage beside residential housing structures are common

Garbage beside residential housing structures are common

In countries where waste is not wasted, tonnes of energy are generated for use in hospitals and laboratories for warming, and in kitchens where it replaces the conventional cooking gas. A significant proportion of cheap energy can be available for such uses if the tons of waste and garbage produced by Douala households were to be recycled, or simply transformed. Yet, waste continues to be a source of public health concerns in the economic capital. Of the 1200 tonnes of waste said to be collected daily, a lethal 400 tonnes are still uncollected and they have for some time now burden Douala through largest known outbreaks such as plague, cholera, typhoid fever or diarrhea, 50 years after independence. As a result, slum neighbourhoods are fountains for the human and economic loss that has waved across the city.

It was little known that communal character could influence an entire city population to such an extent. The recent cholera outbreak proved that personal behavior vis-à-vis food should not only be the cause for public health concerns but that a community may equally be informed of the good it does – first to itself, then the general public – when its wastes are properly disposed or simply assembled in places accessible to collection by the Hygiene and Sanitation Company, HYSCAM.

Unsafe characteristics of city life, including; the slum habitation of Mabanda (Bonaberi) and New Bell, the squatter colonies of the marshy Nylon, and the emptying of waste and garbage in unauthorized places (gutters, ditches, streams, water, sewage sometimes burnt in the open air polluting the atmosphere), according to Ecologists and Human Rights Promoter and President of the NGO, Organisation of Human Rights and Citizens’ Protection, Prince Kemajou Raoul Nasser, have laid their foundations in Douala. The situation is even more acute in neighborhoods like Bilongué, Madagascar, and Brazzaville (Nylon) coupled with the precarious living conditions and non-existence of a system of sewage disposal, as well as septic tanks. Douala once described by the NGO as “The cemetery of plastic waste” was in allusion to these neighbourhoods. The unhealthy piles of garbage found in Douala II and III council areas is, indeed, the source of the proliferation of flies and mosquitoes that first contact with excreta, then contaminate food. During the rainy season, the various wastes are carried to the wells and unprotected sources of drinking water by runoff from rainfall. The same applies to the flow of waste from leaking sewers.

An official of HYSACAM said, more than 1500 tonnes of waste (excluding industrial waste) is produced everyday in Douala, of which just 1200 tonnes are collected and properly disposed of. “At least 400 tonnes is left uncollected because of inaccessibility of some quarters by our close to 100 garbage pick-up trucks and 1100 employees.” Prince Kemajou Raoul Nasser refutes the figures: “From statistical and demographic survey, garbage collection covers only 40%, meaning that 750,000 tonnes of waste are collected per year of the 2 million tonnes produced annually – not including industrial waste. At least 45 million kg is produced per month. Each citizen produces on average 500 grams of organic liquid waste per day. Still millions of tonnes have not been collected for years now, meaning that efforts and capacities ought to be doubled to meet the real needs of waste collection in the city.”

Faced with this inadequacy, pre-garbage collection and drainage of wastewater should be built up in slum neighborhoods. The poor must not remain passive. They must often deal with their problems.