Namibia battles to regain its ‘cleanest in Africa’ status

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By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Namibia is facing an uphill battle to ensure environmental cleanliness around the country. And the country’s President Hage Geingob has personally joined the drive to make it clean and attractive again.

Namibia’s capital Windhoek, once Africa’s cleanest city, is now the fourth cleanest city on the continent and last topped the list four years ago.

The country’s Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta joined the conversation saying the degradation of the landscape is damaging the country’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination.

“Even though the impact on the tourism sector is not yet felt, littering has the potential to deter visitors. Solid waste is increasing on our roads and in towns, villages and communities.

“Filthy environments do not attract visitors, but on the contrary [they] will chase them away, as they also pose the risk of diseases. Most people do not understand that cleanliness in itself is an attraction,” he said.

Shifeta said Namibia has lost its status as the cleanest country in Africa due to the increasing amount of waste accumulating along national roads, in towns and in villages.

Namibia has earmarked May 25, 2018, a public holiday to celebrate Africa Day, as the national clean-up day. President Hage Geingob initiated the clean-up campaign out of concern over environmental pollution and littering in the country.

On that day, Namibians are expected to go out into their communities and clean up. The initiative is further aimed at raising awareness on cleaning regulations.

The country’s hygiene status has been exposed in recent times through outbreaks of various sanitation-related diseases, including hepatitis E, cholera, malaria and typhoid.

Since last year, the Windhoek Municipality, together with the health ministry, has been battling to contain a Hepatitis E outbreak. The outbreak killed 12 people and saw 237 people hospitalised. January also recorded a cholera case in Namibia’s capital.

In previous years, Windhoek has topped the charts, as the cleanest city in Africa. However, it has since been overtaken by Kigali, Rwanda, for four years now. 

Windhoek now has to be content with being the fourth cleanest city in Africa, for the overall quality of living and tidiness, according to the latest Mercer Quality of Living Survey.

President Geingob finds it unacceptable that because of littering, Namibians allowed the City of Windhoek to lose its position as the cleanest city in Africa.

“We regret the loss of 11 lives from these disease outbreaks. The government calls upon Namibians to come out in numbers for the National Clean-up Campaign on 25 May 2018,” Geingob announced, during his State of the Nation Address recently.

 Namibia’s Urban and Rural Development Minister Peya Mushelenga, echoed the president’s sentiment and called on regional and local authority councils to intensify their cleaning and environment awareness strategies.

He said they should take ownership of the National Clean-Up Campaign in order to keep their towns spotless at all times. 

City of Windhoek spokesperson, Scheifert Shigwedha, said the municipality has made significant improvements regarding cleaning and greening the city, but admits it is experiencing challenges when it comes to cleaning up informal settlements.

Shigwedha attributes the habit of dumping trash in the streets or in gutters, and open defecation as some of the issues that the Windhoek Municipality is working to address through its cleaning sensitisation drives.

“Look at our informal settlements, we are urging them all the time to stop littering and desist from defecating in the open but they disregard the rules,” Shigwedha said.

The city official cautioned that people found dumping trash, littering or any practice undermining the city’s cleanliness, will be fined R1,000.

In addition, the city’s solid waste management division has launched environmental programmes in collaboration with schools in the capital, to educate children on how to handle waste and how to take ownership of the environment.

The Namibia Recycling Forum, a consortium of businesses, has been running a School Recycling Project competition for six years now. In 2018 alone, the students, through the project, managed to collect about 350 tonnes of waste.

 Schools in Windhoek, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Henties Bay and northern towns of Oshakati and Ondangwa have been encouraged to participate in the competition. 

Anita Witt representing the Namibia Recycling Forum told The Southern Times that participating schools do not only stand a chance to win cash prizes for their recycling efforts but are also rewarded for the recyclables collected.  

Despite that Namibia has laws and regulations pertaining to waste management, Namibians continue to litter unabated. Shifeta raised concerns that despite having laws such as the Environmental Management Act in place, people are not a deterred from littering. He added that people continue to pollute the environment partly due to lack of awareness of their obligations as set out in the Environmental Management Act.

“We encourage everyone to stop littering and to rather clean up our cities, resting places along national roads, villages, conservancies, national parks and recreation areas because that could turn from an eyesore into a national asset,” Shifeta said.

Come May 25, Minister Shifeta is calling all communities, including manufacturers of items commonly associated with littering such as soft drinks, confectionery and fast food to take part in the national clean-up campaign. 

From the environmental perspective, Shifeta wants the clean-up campaign not only to be collecting waste and disposing it at landfills and dumping sites.

“We would want the campaign to emphasize on the reduce, reuse and recycle principle that is promoted in our Environmental Management Act.

“For this reason, the campaign will also be supported by our recycling companies and we will be making use of clear bags to collect recyclable waste during the campaign as well as the normal black bags for non-recyclable waste,” he said.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism recently launched the solid waste management strategy to improve the management and disposal of solid waste. In this regard, a National Solid Waste Management Strategy and regulations were developed in line with the Environmental Management Act No. 7 of 2007.

Shifeta expressed that the Solid Waste Management Strategy “is important to ensure that the future directions, regulations, funding and action plans to improve solid waste management are properly coordinated and consistent with national policy, and to facilitate co-operation between stakeholders”. 

The minister has also mooted a national ban on the use of plastic to combat environmental pollution, a plan that exited the City of Windhoek. Shigwedha said such deliberate policies would help Windhoek claim its place on the summit of the cleanest cities in Africa.

In 2008, Rwanda banned the use non-biodegradable plastic, which is often cited as the main cause of pollution. 

And every Saturday of each month, Rwandese across the country commit time to projects aimed at improving the country’s public spaces, in a mandatory practice called Umuganda—loosely translated as “coming together to achieve a common purpose”.

Rwanda Foreign Policy emphasizes that there is no trash in the streets of capital Kigali, even on the dirt roads outside the city’s main arteries. Vendors have been banished from the sidewalks, and so has plastic packaging.

Walking down the street with plastic bags can attract a fine of over R150, while storeowners found stocking them face a jail sentence of between 6 and 12 months.

“We need to do research on what went wrong that Kigali is doing right and that should be a starting point,” Minister Mushelenga opined.

President Geingob will take part in the national cleaning day in Windhoek and will be joined by Mayor Kazapua, the Governor of Khomas Region Laura McLeod-Katjirua and the constituency councillors as well the city residents.

 

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