Maputo — The rescue operation at the rubbish dump in the Maputo neighbourhood of Hulene ended on Tuesday, without the discovery of any more bodies.
The death toll from the collapse of the dump on Monday morning on top of seven houses thus remains 21, while five injured people are undergoing treatment at Maputo Central Hospital.
AIM counted 30 houses in the shadow of the dump that are now empty. Their occupants have been evacuated, some to the homes of relatives, and others to an accommodation centre set up by Maputo Municipal Council in the Ferroviario neighbourhood.
There are 103 families in Ferroviario being assisted by the Mozambican relief agency, the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC). "As from now, we shall work with the families accommodated at Ferroviario", said the Maputo INGC delegate, Fatima Belchoir. "We have food, family kits and hygiene products. We have enough to assist the families. In the first phase, we shall set up a collective kitchen".
The Council plans to demolish the houses built around the rubbish dump over the next few days, announced the Council's Director for Salubrity and Cemeteries, Joao Mucavele. The affected families will be given plots of land and construction materials to build homes in safe areas.
"All the houses around the dump will be destroyed. There are at least 30 of them", said Mucavele.
This is not the first time people have been moved away from what was obviously one of the most unhealthy places in the city. In the past, people who had lived in the vicinity of the dump were resettled and given building materials - but they returned and continued living in a death trap which, for whatever reason, they found convenient.
What was to stop the same happening this time? Mucavele replied sharply "We shall use force to restore order. Only with the use of force will it be possible to restore order. If anyone returns and builds in a place from which he has been removed, we shall demolish the house. And there will be no compensation. We hope nobody will complain about human rights when we do that".
It has taken 17 deaths to shake the Municipal Council out of its usual tolerance towards illegal building and squatting. Indeed, as Mucavele recognised, the Council has even allowed public electricity and water services to be installed in areas that are grossly inappropriate for housing.
"These are areas where, under normal circumstances, neither water nor electricity should be provided", he admitted. "But the people are already there, and they must drink water and have light. The important thing is that we are closing definitively this place for housing, and we shall continue to shut down the Hulene rubbish dump".
Mucavele claimed that preparations to close down the dump are at an advanced stage, but will cost at least 50 million US dollars. A new landfill is being built at Matlamele, in the neighbouring city of Matola, to accommodate garbage from both Maputo and Matola.
This landfill should have been in operation by early 2016 at the latest. But it has been delayed because people have illegally squatted on the land. Once again the authorities, this time Matola Municipal Council, have failed to enforce the law, but prefer to negotiate with the squatters.
"The area where the landfill should be built is occupied", said Mucavele. "There's an entire negotiation process to remove the people who have occupied the place. Most of them settled there after they knew about the project, after they saw the construction placard, and saw that the place had been fenced".