Trash. Garbage. Refuse. Solid waste. Whatever you may call it, the growing mass of what Kenyan towns throws away is lurking on the horizon. It is the dark cloud of these times, and the storm that threatens to flood us with our own debris.

There is no denying the reality of the threat. Unless a cure is found, we may wind up with two undesirable options — being swamped with trash, or dumpsites.

In Kenya, 30 to 40 per cent of all solid waste generated in urban areas is uncollected and less than 50 per cent of the population is served. In some cases, up to 80 per cent of collection transport is out of service or in need of repair.

Open dumping and burning are the norm. It is only now that we are considering the first landfill in Mombasa. One of local government’s tasks is to ensure the provision of a clean and healthy environment for the inhabitants. In many instances, councils are unable to meet this responsibility, yet the time for well-reasoned, rational solutions to the question of where to dump the trappings of our “disposable” society is growing short.

The warnings must be stated in the strongest possible terms. It is time to put on the brakes, implement a sensible and responsive national approach to the resolution of this national problem, or face the consequences. Solid waste is a national problem that requires considerable resources and more help than has been forthcoming.

It is the agenda of solid waste that last week took municipal managers and industry stakeholders to the Emperor Palace in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The plenary sessions generated a wealth of information that can help us all — city managers, politicians, business, community advocates, and citizens alike — work towards a sustainable future for Africa’s solid waste dilemma.

Expert panellists and participants at the WesteCon 2010 convened by the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa provided fresh and stimulating perspectives on the problem. While Kenya may not be able to tackle all the challenges on its own, it can serve as a catalyst in identifying actions and working with partners towards their implementation in Eastern Africa.

As a nation we need to ask: How can “the busy public” be educated and motivated to understand the problems and what needs to be done to address solid waste challenges? How much of the 12 per cent proposed revenue from the central government to counties will be dedicated to waste management by our councils? My suggestion is that at least 2 per cent of the funds be dedicated to solid waste.

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