18 August 2023
Solid waste management has emerged as one of the menaces facing Harare City. The volume of waste being generated has continued to increase at a faster rate than the ability of the city council to cope and improve on the financial and technical resources needed. Although solid waste management is a pressing problem in Harare, it is not a new one. It has persisted over the years. The challenge has, however, worsened due to the increase in population of the city and the sprouting of illegal settlements, which have strained the city’s limited capacity to manage and control solid waste in the province. The state of affairs is characterized by archaic waste management, malfunctioning equipment, inefficient collection practices, open burning of garbage, illegal dumping, and littering. This innately results in serious environmental hazards and barriers to the realization of the right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment as enshrined in Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. In response to the crisis, various plans and strategies have been developed, such as Zimbabwe’s Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (2015) (ISWMP) and the recently adopted City of Harare Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (2021–2026). Further, the President declared the first Friday of each calendar month to be a National Clean-Up Day as the Government moves to ensure the country has sustainable environmental management and waste disposal systems.
Declaration of a State of Disaster
It must be noted that in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Chapter 14) and the Urban Councils Act [Chapter 29:15], provincial councils have a legal obligation to provide services, including basic services such as clean water, waste management, and sanitation services. For councils to perform service delivery functions, the Urban Councils Act empowers Councils to collect rates and taxes to get funds. Despite payments of rates and taxes by Harare residents, the council has, over the years, failed to provide the services. Despite the recognition of the challenge and the fact that residents pay rates and taxes, the City of Harare is still failing to deal with the crisis. In response, on July 31, 2023, the President of Zimbabwe gazetted statutory instrument 140 of 2023, the Civil Protection (Declaration of State of Disaster: Emergency Solid Waste Management Harare Metropolitan Province) Notice, 2023. The Statutory Instrument (SI) effectively declared a state disaster in the Harare Metropolitan Province in terms of Section 27 of the Civil Protection Act [Chapter 10:06]. The declaration applies in Harare Metropolitan Province, which comprises three local authorities, namely Harare City Council, Chitungwiza Town Council, and Ruwa Town Council. It stated that the government has noted that the Harare Metropolitan Province lacks cleanliness due to litter and waste dumps, burning of garbage, indiscriminate illegal dumping of solid waste, and littering in business and residential areas of the province. The declaration further highlighted that the local authorities in the province are unable to manage the situation because of their failure to invest in waste management infrastructure, equipment, and human resources, as well as their inefficient collection practices and lack of environmental control systems.
The declaration illustrates the extent of the danger and violation of the right of residents to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing. It can be argued that the declaration is a way to try and ensure that the right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment is protected. The declaration also combines the efforts of local authorities with those of the Environmental Management Agency in coordinating waste management activities in the province, which is a step in the right direction. The national development strategy 1 (2021–2025) acknowledges that basic services such as potable water, waste management, and sanitation facilities are not accessible due to the absence of the necessary infrastructure. One of the strategies to improve this is through partnerships with the private sector to upgrade waste management infrastructure and recycling services.
There is a lack of accountability by the council on what the rates are used for, and there have been allegations of misuse of public funds. The 2020 Audit General’s Report exposed some anomalies in the city’s books of accounts amounting to $190 million. ZELA and other actors and resident associations have been advocating and calling for improved waste management systems that encourage responsible waste disposal and recycling. Further, we have been advocating for law reforms in local governance to ensure transparency and accountability over public services for improved service delivery.
According to the declaration, the Minister responsible for local government conferred powers and authority on the Minister responsible for the environment to remedy the situation. In turn, the declaration further authorizes the Minister responsible for the environment to give the powers of waste management to the Environmental Management Agency. The Environmental Management Agency is a regulator that seeks to protect the environment and ensure that environmental rights are respected. For the next three months from the date of the declaration, EMA has the power to
To coordinate the use of materials and services made available by local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province during the state of disaster.
To endeavor to remove illegal solid waste dumps by means of a range of activities, including mapping, quantification, and clearing of illegal waste dumps, and to direct local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province to establish appropriately designed and designated waste transfer stations.
To direct local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province, under its supervision, to undertake periodic refuse collection, consisting of street-by-street waste collection including sanitary lanes.
To direct local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province, under its supervision, to install bins in streets and public places.
To undertake, together with local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province, awareness campaigns through roadshows, radio and television programs, and sector-specific cluster meetings.
With the above powers conferred on EMA, it will essentially play a supervisory role to ensure that solid waste management is undertaken efficiently. The declaration also gives EMA the power to recover any costs that it will incur in working with and supervising the local authorities. Funds in the National Civil Protection Fund will be used to reimburse EMA for any expenses incurred. It is hoped that EMA and the city can collaborate to improve the situation.
Part of the remedial work to be done by EMA includes undertaking, together with local authorities within the Harare Metropolitan Province, awareness campaigns through roadshows, radio and television programs, and sector-specific cluster meetings. This is a great opportunity for the two to partner with non-state organizations to raise awareness campaigns around solid waste management and good environmental stewardship among citizens, especially since Zimbabwe has a larger population with little sensitivity to waste around them or any awareness of what represents responsible waste management. Awareness campaigns are key and will go a long way in sensitizing the public on environmental stewardship, which will in turn foster the conservation of nature and promote a sustainable environment.
There is also a need to reform the urban and local governance laws (Urban Councils Act, Provincial Councils) and align them with the Constitution and implement devolution as prescribed by Section 264 of the Constitution.
Given that the theme for this year’s World Environment Day was “beat plastic pollution”, it is important for EMA, local authorities, businesses, and parliament to sensitize the public on the effects of plastic pollution on their health and environment.
Civil society organizations should use this opportunity to revamp advocacy around the Environmentally Sound Management of Waste by local authorities and the private sector.
Strengthening national policy frameworks through enacting strong policies aimed at reducing solid waste, including plastic materials.
The City of Harare should provide sustainable refuse collection services that will positively impact society, minimizing the mushrooming of refuse dumps at undesignated sites or places.
City of Harare to improve waste management infrastructure by investing resources or partnering with private sector players.
Improved waste management systems that encourage responsible plastic waste disposal and recycling .Recycling plastic whenever possible helps keep plastic out of landfills and incinerators, where it can release harmful pollutants into the environment. There is also a serious need for EMA and local authorities to combine efforts with recycling companies to financially support their work.