Garbage choking Eldoret town
By Edwin Cheserek
| May 14th 2012
By Edwin Cheserek
Poor management of garbage in the highly populated Eldoret town could soon lead to an environmental disaster.
While some town councils realised long ago that garbage collection was beyond their capacity and attracted private companies to do the work, in Eldoret, the municipality is handling the task, albeit dismally. Instead of involving the private companies, the council has enlisted the services of street children for the exercise.
As a result, the collection is poorly coordinated and it is not sufficient to meet the demands of the rapidly growing town.
The street children rummage in the toxic heaps of industrial waste without the necessary protective gear to guard against chemical burns and poisoning.
Every morning, they fill up mounds of dirt with their bare and greasy hands into several municipal trucks and once filled to the brim, the children board the trucks to ensure there is no spillage as they head to the dumpsites.
“While they load the dirt, they also feed on whatever morsels of food they find in the dirt,” says Samuel Samoei, a resident.
Source of bread
Most of these dumpsites are located along the banks of River Sosiani, which means the festering refuse eventually ends up in the water.
The river sustains thousands of livelihoods of Eldoret’s growing informal settlements as it runs its course several miles downstream.
While at the dumpsites the street children are then assigned the task of burning plastics and other waste that emit pungent fumes, but which they have to endure without facemasks.
The only reprieve they get, according to their thinking, is in sniffing glue, smoking cigarettes and other substances, allegedly to ward off the effect of rot and acrid chemicals.
For all these, the children say they carry home Sh100 a day, but cannot complain as they fear losing their jobs.
“Please don’t tell the council people that we complained because they will dismiss us,” said one street boy.
Some of the children, who pick and burn the dirt, are underage but have been forced out of school and homes by the harsh economic conditions.
“They come to the street with the hope of making money out of garbage but we have had to take many to hospital after they developed chest complications,” says James Njenga, a children rights activist.
Even with all these hardships, the street children have set up polythene homes within the dumpsites to live close to their source of bread.
The garbage management exercise has become one of the major sustainers of street life. While the council already has the children on board, scrap metal dealers also seek their services.
“The street children know they are in high demand and are not going to leave the dumpsite soon. They search for valuables for scrap metal dealers and mechanics before they load the garbage for disposal,” adds Njenga.
Chillingly, they also collect disposed medical equipment such as syringes which they sell to quack medics in the town.
According to residents of Huruma Estate, which neighbours the town’s largest dumpsite, several children have been taken ill because of pollution.
“But nobody seems to take notice except the victims because this is a slum and few people ever visit us,” says Samoei.
The garbage collection centres are not secured and as a result, they have become convenient for other forms of abuse including illegal charcoal burning and drug peddling.
Muggers have also taken advantage of the poorly coordinated exercise of garbage collection to advance their business.
While other towns have sufficient litter disposal bins, in Eldoret’s populous main stage and along the main Uganda Road, which cuts through the town, bins are hardly visible.
Town mayor William Rono, however, insists that the town is clean and there are further plans to make it even cleaner.
“We have relocated the hawkers from the town centre and this has improved Eldoret’s cleanliness, our focus now is to rescue River Sosiani,” says the mayor.
The mayor denied that street children are employed to collect garbage saying only the older street people are hired as a way of encouraging them to fend for themselves.
Residents The Standard talked to say it is futile to enlist street children in the business of garbage collection because they will always litter the streets to keep their jobs. If the town is clean, they will have nothing to do.
Part of the pollution problem in Eldoret stems from the rural-urban migration which peaked after the 2008-2009 post-election violence and suddenly led to a population surge.
“The rural areas were the most affected by the skirmishes, and so families have been moving to the relatively secure town centre thus compounding the pollution problem,” says Kipkorir Menjo, a resident.
Obviously the council is overwhelmed and Uasin Gishu Nema official Gilbert Magut is calling for public-private partnership to boost management of solid waste in the town.
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