14 November 2012

Tanzania: Capital Baking in Its Own Waste

THE city of Dar es Salaam, producing on average 4,100 tons of garbage every day according to some record, but able to cart away only 50 per cent of the rubbish load, is choking in its own waste.

Waste, if improperly disposed, does not only cause pollution. It also causes a rise in atmospheric temperature. In Dar es Salaam, most of the waste lies in the open because of inefficient or relayed disposal ways.

The result is that the city is hotter in places because heaps of waste is left for long before disposal, decaying and polluting water lines with its sludge.

The National Environment Management Council (NEMC) says this difference of temperatures in various areas of the city is a result of methane produced by decaying rubbish, in addition to other factors like high concentration of buildings and people.

"Methane is one of greenhouse gases," explains NEMC's Environmental Engineer James Ngeleja. "They trap heat from escaping out of the earth's surface, but if they increase in amount, they cause a rise in temperature." An internet source corroborates Mr Ngeleja's comment by saying methane is 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-period and is emitted from a variety of natural and human-influenced sources.

"Human-influenced sources include landfills, natural gas and petroleum systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, waste water treatment and certain industrial process," explains the source. According to the source, natural sources of methane have conventionally been thought to be dominated by wetlands. Where soils are waterlogged and oxygen concentrations are low or zero, a group of microorganisms called methanogens may produce large amounts of methane as they respire carbon dioxide to derive energy.

"Wetland methane emissions are thought to comprise around 80 per cent of the total natural methane source," the Internet says. Broken water pipes that cause long periods of water spillage in places in urban centres are therefore a significant cause of global warming. Mr Ngeleja who is a NEMC's Principal Environment Management Officer, notes that waste needs to be carted off quickly enough to dumps where it should be treated accordingly.

But its poor collection and delay in its disposal leaves the air polluted with smoke from spontaneous fires that erupt at the dump sites. Moreover, another internet source says changing technology and computer breakdowns lead to millions of tons of waste in discarded computers each year. An estimated 50 million tons of electronic waste are discarded each year. Most of these discarded computers are sent to landfills overseas in Africa, China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

"Computers contain heavy metals like lead and toxic chemicals that pollute the soil and contaminate groundwater when they are dumped into landfills. Runoff from these landfills can contaminate water used for drinking and bathing, exposing people to dangerous chemicals," the source explains. Unplanned construction of buildings has rendered many waste collection centres inaccessible.

This violation of the city's master plan has also caused poor drainage and sewage disposal poor. Leakage of water lines is rampant and has made many places unhealthy. Records says on 15 per cent of Dar es Salaam is planned NEMC has washed its hands off the environmental stain, saying local government authorities are first and foremost to blame for the unplanned construction of buildings in Dar es Salaam, a fact that has aggravated pollution in the city.

"They are the ones to inculcate in people the culture to keep their environment clean and ensure immediate disposal of the collected waste takes place," says Environmental Engineer Dr Robert Ntakamulenga. "If we start at this level where every individual has a responsibility to keep their environment clean, the city of Dar es Salaam will be a healthy place to live in." The environmental engineer who works with National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) said the fact that buildings cropped up in non-surveyed areas of the city without permission from the authorities was clear evidence that laxity and irresponsibility of various responsible bodies in the city ruled.

"The construction of a building cannot start without a permit to do so," Mr Ntakamulenga. The engineer adds: "And the construction is inspected and approved at its every stage. It is therefore surprising and indeed a pity that people can have their houses pulled down because the buildings had not in the first place been constructed according to authorized plan by the city's authorities." Dr Ntakamulenga says that it is not the duty of NEMC to work out a waste management system, not to have in place a building construction.

"According to sec.7 and 8 of the Framework Law, the municipals have the mandate to keep the city clean. NEMC is merely an overseer," he explains and adds, "Our posture is eyes on, hands off." The national environmental council only steps in when they see something is going wrong or has already been so and an action needs to be taken to make a correction to restore order.

"But we can't be everywhere at the same time," he says. Another NEMC official, Jame Ngeleja who is Principal Environment Management Officer, says delay of waste disposal pollutes the environment with greenhouse gasses such as methane. (Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years.

Methane is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100-year period and is emitted from a variety of natural and human-influenced sources. Human-influenced sources include landfills, natural gas and petroleum systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, waste water treatment, and certain industrial process.

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