The World Bank is warning of a "looming crisis" as city dwellers produce more and more waste. African cities are hard hit because the volume of waste is growing faster than the funds available for its collection.
Failure to collect garbage is making flood waters rise and there are fears it is even encouraging global warming. One of the co-authors of a new World Bank report “What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management” is Dan Hoornweg. DW asked him what surprised him the most about its findings.
I guess the biggest find is just how fast the rate of solid waste in growing, today it is somewhere between 1.3, 1.4 billion tons a year that is produced and in just 10, 12 years, it will be somewhere around 2.2 billion tons. So it's almost doubling every 10 years. An enormous rate of growth!
DW: And why do you think waste management has been ignored, especially in Africa?
Partly because it is the one service that pretty well only falls to local government, so this is the job that local governments do around the world. They tend to do it quietly. People only notice when it's not working. I'm not so sure I would say it has been ignored. The point of the report is that things today with solid waste are very bad in terms of many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, they don't even have 50 percent of the waste collected. And if things are this bad today, well, we are basically saying we need to start thinking very hard about what things are going to be like in about 10 to 15 years, when in some cities they will be looking at a four to five times budget increase, and two, three, four times the volume of waste. So it's kind of early warning report if you will.
And which African countries are doing badly on waste management?
I'm not sure I would say which are doing badly, it's more about the challenge that African cities in particular have, because they are among the fastest growing cities in the world. By and large they have relatively low GDPs so they don't have much money to pay for solid waste collection. So they are facing the growing challenges of a growing waste stream without commensurate growing budgets to help pick it up.
Africa is already suffering from the effects of global warming. How damaging could this garbage crisis be to African governments?
Unplanned urbanization in Dar es Salaam had led to flood risk
We did a few studies and one of the cities that we looked at was Dar es Salaam, for example, when we did this review of climate change adaption and what we are finding in many cities, especially lower lying coastal cities, is that the solid waste that is not collected ends up in the drains, and then when you get storm events and lots of rain, the solid waste significantly increases local flooding. So one of our big concerns is that as climate change happens and we get more and more storms of greater intensity, and more of the waste is in the drains, we are going to see a lot more flooding, local flooding, which is a big challenge. Then there is also the aspect that solid waste is one of the biggest methane generators in the world and methane is a particularly powerful green house gas, in the short term. So we are quite concerned that as solid waste increases, methane could increase and that could exacerbate global warming.
How then should African governments respond?
Largely by doing what they are doing now, but doing more of it. So, for example, in cities where they may be only collecting 50 percent of the waste stream - more attention needs to be paid to increasing that to much higher levels.
Interviewer: Chrispin Mwakideu
Editor: Mark Caldwell