At WasteAid we often quote the figure “two billion have no waste collection”. That’s a lot of people and it is easy to forget what this actually means in actual, human, terms.

We’re currently out in the city of Jos, Nigeria, working with Tearfund and helping local partners Jos Green Centre to start to address the mountains of waste produced by the more than 1 million inhabitants.

As part of this, we undertook an assessment and mapping exercise in the suburb of Angwan Rukuba – it’s a typical urban community, typical of many similar places in communities across the developing world.

Like many unplanned communities, Angwan Rukuba has no organised waste collection. The paths and routes through the town are steep and impassable for vehicles, and no-one could afford a paid-for collection even if a truck could get through. This means the inhabitants are left entirely on their own when dealing with their solid (and human) waste.

Rubbish is dumped in the streams flowing through the township with a hope that when the rains come, it will be washed away. In the dry season people set fire to it to reduce it. The largest open dump was behind a local school – the principal has asked people not to burn waste during school hours as her students find it difficult to breathe.

Jos, NigeriaAs people move to the city (more than half the world now live in urban areas), the things they buy, and hence throw away, have changed.

Rather than growing their own rice or cassava, they now buy it from the market, in plastic bags or “nylon” in Nigerian pidgin. Washing powder, milk powder and many other consumables come in small, multi-layered sachets. This is on top of the food waste – peelings, husks, leaves that are also dumped.

When asked, people know this is far from ideal, but what option do they have?

The wells in the community are now full with fetid, cloudy, stinking water – the main source of drinking and washing water poisoned.  The streams and rivers flood during the rainy season – at one point washing one of the few bridges in the community away. Cholera, malaria and other waterborne disease are at large in the city and children with respiratory illnesses are common.

People are beginning to mobilise though. It’s a truly grassroots movement; a local pastor has started the long process of developing a community waste management programme to find alternatives for the organics and ever-present plastics. He has started by getting the local community heads on board and appealing to the state sanitation administration to help.

Next step is local awareness raising so people understand why open dumping cannot continue and practical training in segregation and reprocessing…

As we often see, it’s up to local communities to help themselves. This is why we focus on community waste management – not through some idealised vision that this is easy but because usually it is the only option…

Mike Webster is in Jos, Nigeria, with Tearfund Nigeria, helping build local capacity on community waste management.

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