Zimbabwe: Behaviour Change Needed in Tackling Cleanliness

opinion

President Mnangagwa is making an effort to foster a culture of maintaining a clean environment through the declaration of the National Environment Cleaning Day, but it is worrying that people still continue to litter the streets.

Organisations have donated bins, almost in every street in most cities around the country to contribute to the success of the initiative, which is observed on the first Friday of each month.

The national environment cleaning across the country is carried out between 8am and 10am.

One cannot go beyond 10 metres without finding a bin whose distribution is one of the measures under the declaration to ensure the country has sustainable environment management and waste disposal systems.

Are people failing to understand the importance of a clean environment, despite the example, which is being set by the President? Councils are employing cleaners, who sweep the streets everyday, but by mid-day the streets will be littered.

Gone are the days when we used to have "vana mbuya utsanana" (elderly ladies who advised residents on cleanliness in the homes). They would visit homes to check whether hygiene was being practiced at household level.

The ladies were very strict in observing hygienic conduct and they would make sure that no dumping would take place in their areas of work.

Does it mean that people need to be policed to change their behaviours of throwing litter everywhere, even through windows of moving vehicles?

It boggles the mind that even when someone has just cleaned the street, another finds it comfortable to just throw litter on the same area that the broom would have just swept.

Harare City Council corporate communications manager Mr Michael Chideme said behaviour change is a process which takes time and if the mindset of the people is changed all will go well.

"The declaration of the cleaning up campaign is a noble idea, which we are very happy about. We urge the media to keep supporting this idea by spreading the news to the people, as this will change the mindset and behaviour of throwing litter everywhere," he said.

Mr Chideme, however, highlighted that elderly ladies who used to teach families about cleanliness in the homes were the ones now cleaning the streets. When President Mnangagwa declared the National Environment Cleaning Day, he noted that urban centres in Zimbabwe generated about 165 million tonnes of waste per year, the bulk of which end up in open illegal dump-sites, urban streams and wetlands.

A UN environment report presented by executive director Inger Andersen this month also states that plastic materials are the biggest pollutants of the environment, as a result, sound management of chemical, solid and electronic waste is needed for the protection of human health, flora and fauna, which is essential to development, stability and the eradication of poverty.

The world we live in is deteriorating rapidly due to the dire consequences of climate change, which manifest as floods, heatwaves, diseases, water and air pollution, land degradation and desertification among other challenges.

These developments require bold and decisive action with regards to environmental management. A look back at the 1980s and 1990s, reveals that each household had a metal bin with an address of the custodian. Loss of such a bin would result in one paying a fine.

It encouraged people to take good care of their bins. Councils should consider providing such bins; and for recycling and proper management of waste, they should provide specific bins for specific types of waste ranging from plastics, glasses, electronics (e-waste), diapers and organic material (food waste).

Mr Chideme, however, noted that the issue of fines was working, but it also needed cooperation of individuals and the community at large, so that its effectiveness is realised.

Education institutions are encouraged to scale up environmental awareness programmes within schools and colleges of higher learning, on the importance of respecting the environment, and living in harmony with nature, as this inculcates a culture of cleanliness.

Equipping future generations with the necessary environmental knowledge, and good behavioural culture will help in mitigating the effects of climate change through environmental restoration and conservation.

EMA environmental education and publicity manager Amkela Sindange said the major issue was to change the mindset at individual level and the nation at large.

"EMA's thrust is to encourage stewardship so that we have a people with a positive mindset. One should feel guilty when they carelessly throw litter, and those who disobey rules and policies should be punished according to the Environmental Act Section 83," she said.

According to EMA, road shows, meetings, radio and television programmes were helping to create awareness to the masses on issues of behavioural change in as far as littering is concerned.

In Rwanda, the cleaning campaign has been a success and the culture has recently become mandatory.

On the last Saturday of every month, from 8am to 11am, businesses close and traffic halts as citizens across the country take to their neighbourhoods, shovels and hoes in hand, and together try to make their environment cleaner than before.

As a nation, we have a lot to learn from Rwanda and hope to reach a stage where seeing litter in the streets will be a thing of the past, for the country is still transforming, and in the process of changing the behaviour and culture of littering.

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