The coronavirus crisis is not easing out and several countries across the globe are swimming in unchartered waters. Kenya, just like other countries, is grappling with the rising cases of Covid-19 infections. However, measures have been put in place by the Government to stop the spread of the virus across the country.
In this difficult period, it is important to reflect on the importance of a good public health system. The same is true for waste management systems which is a key component of hygiene and sanitation.
In a recent press release, UNEP called on governments to treat waste management as an essential service in the fight against Covid-19. This is because during such times, medical waste is being generated and improper handling of such waste can hamper the fight against the virus. We can expand this and localise it to the Kenyan situation. Our waste is not just medical waste that is being generated in the hospitals but also the waste that is being generated in the quarantine centres across the country, homes and even the masks that the public has to wear.
To ensure that we handle waste properly during this period and beyond, it is important to put in place effective solid waste management policies at county level. To ensure that these policies are effected and compliance enhanced, a regulatory framework in form of laws should be enacted.
One of the tenets of proper waste management is separation of waste at source. This is useful at this time because waste that is contaminated or thought to be contaminated with the virus can be separated from normal waste. Separating waste at source also has a host of benefits for recyclers because it will save them time and money when it comes to sorting out and cleaning what they need. It will also ensure that they recover more items for recycling because mixing waste ruins some otherwise recyclable items.
Another element of a sound policy is to ensure that those who handle waste are protected especially during this time. Providing protective gear to waste handlers may not look like a priority but they could be a weak link in the fight against Covid-19.
The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations and Kenya Associations of Manufacturers are supporting some counties to have in place solid waste management polices and laws to streamline waste management. One of the recommendations of solid waste management policy for Mombasa County, for instance, is that all persons who handle waste at county level should be registered. If counties can begin to implement such requirements, and give waste handlers protective gears as prescribed in the policy, we could be managing a blind spot in this fight.
Another element that counties can begin to implement is to stop the already sorted waste from going to a dumpsite or land fill but hold it in a restricted and guarded waste transfer station where waste thought to be contaminated can be disposed safely following international guidelines on disposing medical and hazardous waste. Land fills and dumpsites in Kenya provide a source of employment for some and this is why it is important to hold this waste at a waste transfer station to avoid otherwise oblivious individuals coming into contact with potentially contaminated waste.
As much as we do not know when the coronavirus pandemic will end, we can try all we can to rewrite it’s script by ensuring that there are no chinks in our armour as we fight it.
[Mr Amwoi is the Programmes Officer, The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations. [email protected]]