Battling Pollution for a Sustainable Future: Addressing Mombasa's Waste Management Crisis
06/03/2024 15:27 in Environment

By Duncan Idare

Mombasa County, Kenya's second-largest city and a critical economic hub, faces an escalating environmental crisis due to improper waste management. Despite its status as a premier tourist destination and a key player in the nation's economy, the county is grappling with a mounting garbage problem that threatens public health, environmental sustainability, and the overall quality of life.

The United Nations General Assembly's list of Sustainable Development Goals calls for Sustainable Cities and Communities and Good Health and Well-being by 2030; however, recent statistics paint a grim picture as the country moves towards achieving these goals.

 According to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Mombasa generates approximately 1,200 metric tons of waste daily, but only about 70% is collected and properly disposed of. The remaining 30%, equating to 360 metric tons, often ends up in illegal dumpsites, waterways, and streets, contributing to pollution and posing significant health risks to the community.

This situation compounds the issue of inadequate infrastructure, insufficient funding, and a lack of public awareness about proper waste disposal practices. The inefficiencies in waste management have resulted in numerous challenges, including clogged drainage systems, an increased prevalence of waterborne diseases, and a decline in the county's aesthetic appeal, directly impacting tourism and local businesses.

The Impact of Garbage on Mombasa Residents:

Hellena Roman, a resident of Mombasa's Junda neighbourhood, vividly describes her community's daily struggles due to the rampant garbage problem. "The situation of waste as of now is worse; I can even call it a crisis," she says, her voice tinged with frustration. Hellena's neighbourhood is one of many in Mombasa where garbage collection is sporadic and inadequate, leading to significant health and environmental issues.

"I usually take my younger brother to school on weekdays, passing through swamps that stink," Hellena continues. "The environment leads my brother to fall sick often."

According to the Mombasa County Public Health Department, cases of waterborne diseases have increased by 15% over the past two years, directly correlating with the waste management crisis. The overflowing waste also blocks drainage systems, causing frequent flooding during the rainy season and exacerbating these diseases' spread.

Beyond health concerns, the garbage problem also affects residents' economic well-being. Hellena notes that garbage affects their day-to-day lives. "Going to work becomes difficult and stressful, and some days you can turn down just because of the garbage you'll pass through," she says. This economic downturn further impoverishes communities already struggling to make ends meet.


The Impact of Garbage on Mombasa's Economy:

Mr Abdalla Kombo, a tomato vendor at Kongowea Market, one of Mombasa's largest fresh produce markets, shares his frustration with the garbage problem that significantly impacts his business. "Every day, I have to deal with the stench and flies that swarm around the heaps of garbage," Mr. Kombo explains. "The garbage is not just an eyesore; it poses serious health risks," Mr. Kombo says.

The accumulation of waste attracts pests and vermin, contaminating the produce and spreading diseases. "Customers are wary of buying fruits and vegetables that might be contaminated," he adds. The MCPHD has reported increased foodborne illnesses linked to unsanitary conditions in marketplaces like Kongowea.

Like many other vendors, Mr. Kombo has seen a decline in his sales. "People are reluctant to shop here because of the garbage," he laments. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that poor waste management practices have led to a 20% reduction in market activity. This downturn affects the vendors and the broader economy, as fewer sales mean lower incomes and diminished economic growth in the area.


The Impact of Garbage on Housing:

Garbage pile at Sylvia Mghoi's rental property in Mshomoroni Kisauni, Mombasa. Photo: Duncan Idare

Sylvia Mghoi, a landlady in Mshomoroni, Mombasa, expresses concern over how the garbage problem affects her property business. "The constant presence of uncollected waste is driving my tenants away," Sylvia says, highlighting the profound impact of poor waste management on her livelihood.

"The overflowing garbage bins and illegal dumpsites near my properties are a serious health hazard," Sylvia explains. "The waste attracts pests and creates unsanitary conditions, making it difficult for residents to live comfortably. My tenants frequently complain about the smell and the increased presence of rats and insects, especially those with children," she adds. According to the health department, such conditions contribute to vector-borne diseases, creating a hazardous environment for the residents.

"Potential tenants are discouraged by the unsightly and unhealthy surroundings," she notes. It has led to higher vacancy rates and reduced rental income. "I've had to lower my rental rates to attract tenants, but even then, it's challenging," Sylvia says.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reports that property values in areas with poor waste management have depreciated by up to 15%, affecting landowners' revenues. Maintaining tenant satisfaction is crucial for any landlord, and Sylvia is no exception. "When tenants move out because of the garbage problem, it becomes harder to maintain a steady income," she explains. Frequent tenant turnover reduces revenue and increases maintenance costs and the burden of finding new tenants. "I've lost good tenants because they found better living conditions elsewhere," Sylvia laments.


Causes of the Garbage Crisis:

Garbage pile at Konngowea Market near where Abdalla Kombo sells his tomatoes. Photo: Duncan Idare

Mr. Kombo offers to explain the root causes of the garbage crisis in Mombasa. "The primary issue is the inconsistency in waste collection," Mr. Kombo explains. "The market generates substantial waste daily, but the collection services are erratic at best. Some days, the garbage trucks don't come at all, leaving heaps of waste to pile up," he says. This irregularity leads to unsightly conditions and creates health hazards as the waste attracts pests and breeds diseases.

He also highlights the role of public awareness and behaviour in the garbage crisis. "Many people don't know how to dispose of waste properly, and there's a lack of education on the importance of keeping our environment clean," he notes. This gap in knowledge leads to indiscriminate dumping.

Economic constraints further complicate the situation. Mr Kombo explains that the financial burden of managing waste responsibly often falls on already poor individuals, making implementing practical solutions at the grassroots level challenging.

Despite these challenges, the government has tried to address the garbage problem. "We've seen some improvement with garbage collection, but the percentage should be improved," Mr. Kombo acknowledges. However, these efforts need to be coordinated and supported by the residents to be sustainable and effective.

Ms Mghoi offers another perspective on the causes of the garbage crisis. She emphasizes the malpractice of waste disposal by house garbage collectors. "The biggest issue we face is the improper waste disposal by house garbage collectors," Sylvia explains. "After receiving residents' payments, these collectors dump the garbage in unauthorized locations. Instead of taking the waste to designated disposal sites, they dispose of it in nearby empty lots or along the roads," she says.

Sylvia also highlights the inconsistency of formal waste collection services as a contributing factor. "The garbage trucks don't come regularly, and when they do, they don't collect all the waste," she notes.

Sylvia underscores the need for greater public awareness about proper waste disposal practices. "Many residents are unaware of the impact of improper waste disposal and the importance of using authorized services," she explains. Educational campaigns and community engagement must change public attitudes and behaviours toward waste management.

Hellena mentions the lack of litter bins and irregular pickup schedules as contributors to the growing garbage problem.

"The primary issue is the severe shortage of litter bins in our neighborhood, people want to dispose of their waste properly, but there are simply not enough bins available. This scarcity forces residents to dump garbage in public spaces, streets, and vacant lots. You walk around and see piles of waste everywhere because there's nowhere else to put it," she says. NEMA has identified the inadequate provision of waste disposal infrastructure as a critical challenge in urban areas like Mombasa.

A garbage heap is en route to Junda School, which Hellena passes while taking her brother to school. Photo: Duncan Idare

"One of the significant challenges we face is the proliferation of illegal dumping sites," Pauline Oginga, the Chief Officer of Environment and Solid Waste Management in Mombasa County, explains. "There are 19 identified illegal dumping sites across Mombasa. These dumpsites mar the landscape and pose severe health risks to nearby communities," she adds. Efforts to monitor and eliminate these sites are ongoing, but enforcement remains a persistent challenge.

Another critical issue is the lack of public awareness of proper waste disposal. "Many people generate waste but are unaware of where it ends up or how it is managed. This lack of knowledge leads to improper disposal practices, contributing significantly to the garbage problem. Public education and awareness campaigns are essential to inform residents about the impact of their waste disposal habits and the importance of following proper procedures," Ms Oginga emphasizes.

The Chief Officer stresses that effective waste management is not solely the government's responsibility; it requires active participation from individuals. "Every resident must take accountability for their waste, from proper disposal to reducing waste generation. Encouraging a culture of responsibility and sustainability is crucial to addressing the garbage crisis comprehensively," she said.

Mombasa County Government has implemented several initiatives to improve waste management. "We are increasing the number of legal dumping sites, enhancing waste collection schedules, and partnering with private firms for better waste management solutions," Ms Oginga outlines. Additionally, efforts are underway to strengthen the enforcement of waste management laws and conduct public awareness campaigns. Mombasa County is partnering with private waste collectors to tackle waste management more effectively.

"We are formalizing agreements with licensed waste collectors to ensure proper waste disposal practices," the Chief Officer explains. "Currently, out of 2,600 private waste collectors, only 100 are licensed. By increasing the number of licensed collectors, we can improve compliance and efficiency in waste collection," she adds.

"We are implementing a mapping system to monitor waste collection and disposal, this system helps track the activities of waste collectors, ensuring they adhere to regulations. With better monitoring and more licensed operators, we can significantly reduce illegal dumping," she notes.

Mombasa County has introduced programs in primary schools to instil proper waste management habits from a young age. These programs educate children about the importance of waste management in building a culture of environmental responsibility. They include practical lessons on recycling, proper waste disposal, and the environmental impact of littering.

Pauline Oginga, the Chief Officer of Environment and Solid Waste Management in Mombasa County says there needs to be a shared responsibility in the fight against illegal dumping in the county and urges public-private partnerships to attain sustainable status. Photo: Pauline Oginga Facebook

One major initiative to improve waste management is converting the Mwakirunge dumpsite into a sanitary landfill. This project involves constructing a controlled landfill with proper lining and waste management systems, ensuring safer and more sustainable disposal.

"Transforming Mwakirunge into a sanitary landfill will address many health and environmental concerns associated with open dumpsites. Efficient waste management involves more than just collection and dumping," she explains. "It includes segregation, recycling, and proper disposal to minimize environmental impact."

As Mombasa works towards becoming a sustainable city and community and improving the health and well-being of the residents, effective waste management requires a concerted effort from the government, private sector, and residents to ensure a sustainable future for all. 

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