Once affectionately known as Kin la Belle (Kin the beautiful), many now say that a more apt moniker for Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is Kin la Poubelle (Kin the rubbish bin).

Having just spent several weeks there developing a feasibility study for the monetization and recovery of plastic waste, I had ample time to reflect on the direct importance of decent waste management to the life and well-being of the Kinois (residents of Kinshasa). I also saw first-hand the failure of traditional approaches taken by the international community to improve waste collection and disposal and the need for international waste managers to innovate to provide sustainable waste services.

Heaps of unmanaged waste, Kinshasa, DR Congo 2018. Image (c) Webster / WasteAid

Kinshasa is a city of some twelve million, sprawling across the southern edge of the mighty Congo river. Capital of the DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita GDP in 2014 of just $479. Beyond the upscale central district of Gombe where there is basic organisation of collection, you don’t have to travel far to see drainage channels thick with plastic waste, large scale décharges pirates (open dumps) scattered across the city and open burning. Meanwhile, the evidence of harm caused by poor waste management is widespread – 45 people died in floods whilst I was there, with much of the blame placed by the Kinois on blocked drainage channels. This led to a cholera outbreak with, at the time of writing, around 500 cases and more than 30 fatalities. And this is just the acute, direct affect. What about the long-term impact on the public health of those that live with this every day – gastro-enteritic disease, respiratory illness and environmental enteropathy?

Ever wondered how all that plastic reaches the sea? This is a river full of plastic bottles, Kinshasa, DRC Congo 2018. Image (c) Webster / WasteAid

But there have been efforts to address this – between 2007 and 2017, the EU-funded Programme d’Assainissement Urbain de Kinshasa (PAUK) and then the Projet d’Appui à la Réhabilitation et l’Assainissement Urbain de la ville de Kinshasa (PARAU) delivered comprehensive waste collection and sanitation services in 9 of the 24 communes, building transfer stations, supporting teams of sanitation workers and building DRC’s first ever sanitary landfill at Mpasa, on the edge of Kinshasa. It cost $1 million per month to run and collected 11,000 cubic metres if waste per week. The impact was dramatic – flood zones decreased by 40% and decreased waterborne disease by 50 to 70%, saving thousands of lives.

However, it was handed over the provincial government in August 2015. Since that time, the collections have ceased, the transfer sites are dilapidated and overflowing with uncollected waste. The maintenance of the sanitary landfill ceased – the reception area is a graveyard of cannibalised vehicles, piles of dumped waste. Drainage channels are blocked, liners torn and there are no bulldozers to spread and compact the waste.

To my mind, this shows the blind spot of the waste sector. We are very good at providing quality technical solutions but are less good at considering how they will be financed and managed in the long term. Handing such a project over to a weak government was always going to end in failure, and has led to the waste of tens of millions of euros. We need to think about new cost recovery models, new partners that have an interest in cleaner, healthier communities. Perhaps the private sector, perhaps faith groups, and perhaps working at a more manageable scale than such large, city wide municipal waste collections.

This article was originally produced as a guest blog for the International Solid Waste Association.


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