Commonwealth Alumnus Gomezgani Nyasulu’s ACEF activity sought to raise awareness of the impact of improper waste management on climate change in Zomba, Malawi and the ways in which communities can adapt their waste management practices to address this. Working with Zomba City Council’s Patrick Manyalo, an Environmental Health Officer at the city council, Gomezgani’s activity highlighted the direct link between poor waste management practices and climate related disasters in Zomba. Gomezgani is an Environmental Health Officer in Zomba.

According to Zomba City Council, in 2020 Zomba had a waste generation rate of close to 50 tons per day. The biggest proportion of the solid waste is generated from households and is mainly composed of organics (such as waste food), followed by plastic waste. It is estimated that the council only collects 17.3% of the waste generated, indicating that the majority of the waste generated in the city is indiscriminately disposed of.

There has been a direct link between improper waste management practices and climate related disasters in the city, with floods being the most common among these disasters. According to disaster desk officers in Zomba, improper waste management practices contribute to more than 20% of the flood occurrence in the city.

Engaging the community at multiple levels

Gomezgani’s activity targeted community structures at four levels: city youth networks, women’s savings groups, community leaders, and informal waste recyclers. He delivered four awareness and capacity development sessions with members of these groups in hotspot wards where the impact of improper waste management is at its most dangerous.

Each activity was tailored to meet the needs and roles of the community groups to ensure they were able to identify tangible actions to take forward to improve waste management practices. Patrick Manyalo was a keynote speaker at each session and delivered information on: climate change and common climate disasters in Zomba, the link between climate change related disasters and waste management, waste management practices, and waste management as a climate change adaptation option.

In total, Gomezgani reached 150 community members. To ensure maximum engagement and access for community attendees, Gomezgani worked with local translators who volunteered their time to translate session content.

Through the city youth network, all members of the network were briefed on proper waste management and how to introduce waste management skills at the household level. They were also shown how to recycle certain products and how organic waste can be used to produce compost to support agricultural activities.

Similar information was shared with members of the women’s savings groups, acknowledging the central household role held by most women and the waste produced through their activities. Further information was shared with this group on income generating opportunities through waste management, including recycling and compost production.

In speaking with community leaders, Gomezgani and Patrick emphasised the role of community leaders in policing community waste management by-laws and the need to enforce these laws at the community level to prevent increased flooding.

The final group targeted was made of informal waste recyclers, whose livelihoods are dependent on the economic potential of waste. Their session was intended to raise their awareness and skills in recognising the upscaling potential of waste recycling as a sustainable business and the demand for plastic waste for the development of construction materials. This session promoted waste reduction through the implementation of waste streams, which would also minimise the pressure on local authority waste collectors.

Surpassing expectations

Initially, Gomezgani was concerned there would be limited engagement with the sessions and discussion on waste management, however through the targeting of community gatekeepers, such as the city youth network and community leaders, community engagement was high with many wanting to take part in the sessions.

The city council authorities involved in his activity have described the sessions as key to curbing the challenges that the council is facing in relation to waste management and climate-related disasters such as flooding. They have also created a platform for the council to engage these communities on issues of waste management in future. Gomezgani and the city council are pleased to report that community groups have requested future sessions on waste management to be delivered.

Following their session, the city youth network initiated a community clean-up campaign which contributed to the clearing of improper waste dumping sites in the city. One participant shared:

‘[T]his is the time as young people we become change agents in the community the activity has opened our eyes now we will not dump waste in drains or water ways.’

Community leaders have also subsequently strengthened their role in developing and enforcing waste management community by-laws and have formed a community waste management committee to monitor progress.

Gomezgani hopes that going forward these groups will continue to share the waste management skills they learned and enforce good waste management practices at the community and household level.