Poor waste management is an issue of concern not only for its impacts on the environment, but also on human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about a quarter of the diseases facing mankind today occur due to prolonged exposure to environmental pollution. Most of these environment-related diseases are, however, not easily detected and may be acquired during childhood and manifest later in adulthood.
Improper management of solid waste is one of the main causes of environmental pollution and degradation in many urban areas, not only in Zimbabwe, but other parts of Africa as well such as Maputo (Mozambique), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), among others. Many of these cities lack solid waste regulations and proper disposal facilities, including for hazardous waste, which may be infectious, toxic or radioactive. Poor waste management poses a great challenge to the well-being of city residents, particularly those living adjacent to dumpsites due to the potential of the waste to pollute water, food sources, land, air and vegetation.
Public health effects
The inappropriate disposal of waste may affect human health through the following:
Skin disorders: Fungal infection, allergic dermatitis, pruritus and skin cancer.
Respiratory abnormalities: Bacterial upper respiratory tract infections (pharyngitis, laryngitis and rhinitis), chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Abdominal and intestinal problems: Bacterial enteritis, helminthiasis, amoebiasis, liver cancer, kidney and renal failure.
Dental disorders: Dental cavities and dental pain.
Ear infections: Otitis media and bacterial infections.
Skeletal muscular systems: Back pain.
Central nervous system: Impairment of neurological development, peripheral nerve damage and headaches.
Diarrhoeal diseases: Typhoid, cholera and dysentery
Eye infections: Allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial eye infections.
Blood disorders: Iron deficiency anaemia.
Others: Malaria, chicken pox, septic wounds and congenital abnormalities, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.
During this time, where the nation is fighting a cholera outbreak, it is imperative that we scale up sustainable waste management practices so as to avoid the negative impacts stated above. Place all litter in a bin and keep the frontage and backyards of all premises clean all the time. Compost all biodegradable material and recycle all plastic, paper, metal and glass.
Local authorities should ensure that they have a regular waste collection schedule which is known by the residents and adhered to. If it so happens that refuse is not collected on the stipulated date, a communication mechanism should be devised so that residents are aware of the next scheduled date. They should also ensure that there are sufficient waste bins in urban and business centres. To avoid the occurrence of flash floods in urban areas, local authorities should clear all storm drains before each rainy season, removing litter which often blocks them. Furthermore, every local authority should have a properly lined landfill where waste is disposed of to avoid dumping of waste on open areas and roadsides.
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