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Town wallows in waste as private collectors barred

By | April 15th 2009

By Dedan Okanga

Proper garbage management remains a pipe dream in the densely populated town of Eldoret.

While other towns enjoy services of private garbage collection firms, Eldoret is solely served by the municipal council, which enlists services of street children.

As a result, the exercise is substandard and poorly co-ordinated.

The street children rummage through the potentially toxic heaps of industrial waste without protective gear, risking chemical burns and poisoning.

Dirt mounds

Each morning, the children hurl mounds of dirt with bare and greasy hands into municipal trucks and board them to the dumpsites.

"The problem is that while they load the refuse, they also feed on morsels of food they find," said Mr Samuel Samoei, a resident.

The dumpsites are located on the banks of Sosiani River, which means the festering refuse ends up in the water. The same river sustains livelihoods at Eldoret’s growing informal settlements as it runs miles downstream.

While at the dumpsites, the children are assigned the job of burning plastics and other waste that emit pungent fumes, but which they have to endure without facemasks.

In the absence of the protective gear, they sniff glue, smoke cigarettes to ward off the smell of rot and acrid chemicals.

Meagre pay

For their trouble, the children say they take home Sh100 a day, but would not complain for fear of losing the job.

"Please do not tell council officials that we complained because they will dismiss us," said one boy.

Some who pick and burn the dirt are underage but may have been forced out of their schools by poverty.

"They come to the street with the promise of making money out of the garbage. But we have had to take many to hospital after they developed chest problems and required expert attention," said Mr James Njenga, a children rights activist.

Even with the hardships, the children have set up polythene homes within the dumpsites to stay close to their source of bread.

"The children will not leave the dump sites because scrap metal dealers and mechanics assign them to scavenge for valuables in the garbage," added Njenga.

According to residents of Huruma Estate, which neighbours the town’s largest dumpsite, several children have been taken ill due to effects of pollution.

Collection centres

The garbage collection centres are not secured and have thus become convenient for other forms of abuse including illegal charcoal burning.

Drug peddlers and street muggers take advantage to advance their business.

The council has also failed to provide enough litter disposal bins at the crowded main terminus and on Uganda Road, which cuts through the town.

Mayor Samuel Ruto, however, said plans were underway to restore cleanliness.

"We have moved the hawkers from the town centre and this has improved sanitation. Our focus now is to rescue River Sosiani," said the mayor.

Mr Ruto, however, denied underage street children were employed to collect garbage.

"This is only part of the council’s street children programme that aims to alleviate suffering of the children," he said.

But residents say it is futile to enlist street children in garbage collection because they will continue to find excuses to stay on the streets to keep their jobs going.

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