In the heart of Zambia’s capital city – Lusaka, roughly 30 minutes’ drive from the central business district, lies one of the country’s worst environmental hazards.

It is the Chunga dumpsite, and its problems did not happen overnight, but are the end result of a steady breakdown in basic services by the local municipalities over many years.

Unauthorised people picking waste from the dumpsite

Without proper planning coupled with the lack of a clear plan, the municipality has failed to find a new landfill for Lusaka City.

As a result, residents in the proximity of Lusaka’s main trash site are now afflicted by an array of torments: risk of deathly health-related diseases and pollution.

Lack of proper waste disposal and management is a general problem in Lusaka. Huge piles of refuse lie in the street as the council is only able to collect 15% of all waste generated, and only a small share of that ends up at the only licenced dumpsite – Chunga. In addition, as a result of population increase in Lusaka, an upsurge in waste generation is expected, which will increase the problem.

Originally, the decision to locate the dumpsite in Chunga was planned as a temporary measure by city planners. It began with a decision by the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) – now Zambia Environmental Management Agency, to allow Lusaka City Council (LCC) to operate the landfill, which was originally an illegal dump, as an interim site until a new site was found.

An environmental study by the LCC to determine possible effects of identified new landfill areas in Lusaka, including current Chunga dumpsite, revealed that landfill activities may affect people living as far as 500 metres from the dumpsite, though those living within 200 meters would be the most affected.

The 2003 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) titled: “Realisation of an environmentally sound landfill for Lusaka,” also found that at the time of the study, only 12 families were living within 200 metres of the dumpsite.

However, MakanDay reporters who have been to Chunga dumpsite found that more than 50 families live within a distance of 200 meters from the dumpsite.

It was also revealed that these families are not illegal settlers but in fact obtained the plots legally and are holders of title deeds issued by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.  

But when the Ministry was asked how the residents got the title deeds, it said title deeds for land in Lusaka are only issued at the council’s recommendation.

“Land allocation starts from the council as a planning authority, where they identify the area, plan it and send the plan to Ministry of Lands for numbering, after which they get the plan and recommend allocation to settlers,” said Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Public Relations Officer Diniwe Zulu. “The Ministry of Lands processes the title deeds, knowing the council has done due diligence,” she added.

But LCC Public Relations Manager, Chola Mwamba blamed the illegality at the dumpsite on the residents.

“If you have chosen to live near the dumpsite, you feel it’s ideal, even when you know it’s probably near a dumpsite, what would you want the council to do, what is the role of the council in that particular decision you have made?” Asked Mwamba.

Mwamba said the council is already working on a strategy to help resolve the problem at the Chunga dumpsite.

“The biggest problem is proximity between the dumpsite and the housing, and we assured the people that something was going to be done,” she said.

Residents living near the dumpsite have attributed the poor state of the dumpsite to the council’s poor management.

Kennedy Sakala, is one of the residents who has lived near the dumpsite close to ten years.

“In the past, we had people who knew how to manage the dumpsite, but right now, the new management has no experience,” he added.

Sakala said garbage collection trucks dump garbage on the sides of the road leading to the dumpsite.

Another resident, James Banda said the dumpsite has extended to the main road near the site because people in charge of controlling the tracks are not taking their job seriously.

“See how people are dumping trash right outside my gate and I have reported this to the council time and again but nothing is being done,” he complained.

Nyangason Lubinda suspects contaminated water from the landfill reaches nearby boreholes and endangering the health of residents living close to the dumpsite.

“We do not use water from the borehole in my yard because we suspect it is contaminated,” he said.


Prudence and Enock are interns under the Free Press Initiative (FPI) US-investigative journalism - funded project