Sunday, December 02, 2007

DRC: Disease rife amid capital’s rubbish chaos

In the absence of an organised collection service in Brazzaville, rubbish is often dumped very close to human habitations

The lack of municipal waste disposal services in the Republic of Congo’s capital has led to a proliferation of rubbish mountains that pose a serious public health risk.

Scenes of children, and even adults, amidst piles of garbage are not uncommon in Brazzaville, with some streets having been turned into dumps for domestic refuse, human excrement and biomedical waste from hospitals and clinics.
Some neighbourhoods are surrounded by rubbish, exposing residents to diseases.

Brazzaville has grown rapidly since the 1970s and its population is now estimated to be around 1.5 million.

"Brazzaville is growing rapidly with an expansion of suburbs and an influx into the city of people from rural areas. Social infrastructure development has not kept pace with this growth," said Aimé Bokino, former mayor of the city’s Talangai District.

"Most people living in the suburbs live on low incomes and say they cannot afford to pay for waste disposal," said Anasthasie Ongatama, general secretary of Talangai Municipality.

In some neighbourhoods, rubbish collection is provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at a fee. Teams pick up waste from homes for disposal in rubbish dumps.

In much of the city the work is done in a less-organised fashion by youths, often from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, pushing open hand-carts known as `pousse pousses’ from house to house.

“This doesn’t really solve the problem,” explained Martin Okogna, a civil servant in the Planning Ministry who works with a local NGO, Volunteers for Development. “Once they collect the rubbish, some of these people simply deposit it very close to human habitations without consulting the authorities, turning the site into a dump.”

Biomedical waste

According to a trainee doctor in Brazzaville’s University Hosptial, “health centres have no policies or directives about managing biomedical waste. Most have no suitable or organised hygiene services. Biomedical waste is just thrown out without any treatment.”

The city’s poor waste disposal facilities “causes a grave hygiene problem”, according to Ndinga Essango, who teaches in Brazzaville’s Jean Joseph paramedical school.


“In an environment where dustbins and human excreta lie next to wells, it is safe to say that people are not using safe water and diarrhroeal diseases are present,” he said, adding that residents of the city, particularly children, were susceptible to infectious diseases such as hepatitis A and E.

According to Health Ministry figures, 20 percent of the deaths of children under five are caused by diarrhoea. In 2006, the ministry published a report showing that poor hygiene and inappropriate disposal of human waste were the main causes of epidemics of cholera and diarrhoea.

“The dirtiness of water used domestically also causes infections of the skin and eye, such as trachoma and schistosomiasis , which can be contracted by drawing water from infected wells,” said Essango.

The current rainy season, which runs until January, only makes matters worse.

In an effort to clean up the capital and other cities in Congo, the government has signed a deal with a French company, Inted International, to set up a functioning waste collection service and construct a modern treatment plant 15km from the city.

The plant will also be used to produce methane, and combustion there will be used to generate electricity.

Published with the permission of IRIN
Disclaimer: This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations
Photo: Copyright IRIN