Solid waste management, flooding and water stress in African cities
At the start of the 20th century, the world’s urban population (some 220 million people) produced less than 300,000 tons of waste per day. By the start of the second millennium this figure had grown tenfold, with 2.9 billion city dwellers generating three million tons. Whilst OECD countries are predicted to reach ‘peak waste’ in 2050, this is later in Asia at 2075 and even further into the future in the case of African countries. This means that unless African cities dramatically reduce waste generation, we can expect sustained increases in waste in the short, medium and long term. How cities manage this waste is of course critical to health and sanitation as well as overall wellbeing of their citizens. CDP analysis of 2019 African city responses to the cities questionnaire also shows that how cities manage their solid waste is a key part of adapting to climate change and building city resilience against devastating climate hazards such as flooding and water stress.
In 2019, several African cities reported inadequate waste management as likely to multiply the risks posed by climate change:
- The City of Lagos, Nigeria describes a vital need to clear drains and work with residents to halt indiscriminate dumping of domestic waste into canals intended for flood control.
- The City of Peitermaritzberg, South Africa also cites issues with illegal dumping of solid waste into and along the banks of streams within the city.
- The city of Freetown, Sierra Leone draws direct links between poor waste management, clogging of drains and subsequent flooding.
- Sekhukhune District Municipality, South Africa has cited lack of proper waste disposal as a leading cause of declining water quality and availability in the city.
For all these cities, waste and water management are fundamentally interconnected to the city’s capacity to adapt to climate risks.
As little as 41 percent of solid waste is collected in sub-Saharan African cities and our data shows that only 25% of African cities have water resource management strategies. On average only 69% of populations within these cities having access to potable water. Failure to adequately collect and dispose of solid waste and manage its impact causes water stress and can increase the proliferation of disease-carrying vectors, such as rodents and insects. These risks can be exacerbated by other urban conditions, such as overcrowding. With large amounts of rural to urban migration, informal housing is often established in flood risk areas, and even drainage channels themselves.
We know that with rising global temperatures flooding and water stress is only predicted to get worse, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. In fact, our data shows that cities are already experiencing these hazards with flooding and sea level rise being the most reported hazard amongst African cities in 2019. Biological hazards and water scarcity are also frequently reported. Effective solid waste management is a high impact adaptation action that has a multitude of co-benefits. With limited resources to spend on adaptation actions such as complex flood mitigation infrastructure, solid waste management programs can be taken to reduce flood risk in African cities. This is not to say that solid waste management is a panacea for flooding but in many cases and as in the cases of the cities outlined above, this is a great place to start.
Below, we’ve set out some examples of how African cities are starting to tackle this challenge:
Public private partnerships around waste in Tshwane, South Africa
The City of Tshwane has partnered with private company New GX Enviro on an innovative 'build, operate, and transfer' agreement to develop the Atteridgeville Recycling Park (ARP) on public land. New GX Enviro will operate the facility for 15 years, before ownership of the waste management facility reverts to the city at no cost. The facility represents a $16.4 million investment and contains a material recovery facility, garden waste composting facility and construction and demolition waste disposal facility. The recycling unit serves 300,000 households in the surrounding regions and diverts waste from landfill. It also contributes to the local economy by creating permanent jobs for the people of Atterideville.
Community engagement in Nairobi, Kenya
In order to change citizen attitudes toward waste and reduce indiscriminate dumping of waste, the city of Nairobi launched an initiative that runs monthly clean-ups involving as many community members as possible. Lead by political leaders, administrators and environment officers, the monthly clean ups have been embraced by residents of all 85 wards across the city. Local business owners and schools have been involved in the project, providing tools and refreshments or encouraging their pupils to join in. The clean-up also involves the re-generation of dumpsites by clearing and planting trees, proving many co-benefits such as carbon sequestration, improved air quality as well as the benefits to health, sanitation and flood risk management. Read more about this initiative here.
Encouraging entrepreneurship in Johannesburg, South Africa
The City of Johannesburg has encouraged entrepreneurship in the waste industry by establishing waste buy-back centres, which are operated by local communities. The centres buy recyclable waste such as paper, plastic, cans, and glass from citizens and then sell it to recycling businesses. Waste collectors receive a direct cash payment according to the volume of cleaned waste they bring in. Key to the initiative is the involvement of informal waste collectors; without the buy-back centres matching supply and demand, waste collectors would have to travel long distances by foot to sell it on. With business entity ownership and increased recycling rates providing reliable value to waste, communities can benefit. There are seven buy-back centres spread across the city, each of which employs 10 to 15 full-time staff.
For cities of the future, waste management, water security, and climate adaptation will become increasingly important environmental challenges. Developing steps to manage waste well is essential for cities as we seek to build a climate-safe future. The cities in these examples are making strides by addressing the issue at its source, and engaging citizens in delivering solutions.