By Anna Ingwafa
The Oshakati dumpsite at Othingo village poses a serious health hazard to shack dwellers living at an informal settlement. The shack dwellers reside near the dumpsite where they scavenge for food and returnable glass bottles, cans and other salable waste materials every morning.
About 30 people, mainly women some of them with babies strapped on their backs, work around the clock at the dumpsite in search of used materials without any safety gear.
Recently a New Era correspondent saw them sifting through the garbage with bare hands.
At the dumpsite, scavengers some of them barefooted, were hanging around the entrance to jump onto a moving waste vehicle so that they could grab anything useable.
The women collect bottles which they sell to Move-A-Mess, a private firm contracted to remove domestic waste at Oshakati and that addresses some of the town’s waste management problems.
They claim that since 1995 the company promised to provide them with safety clothing but has failed to honour the promise.
“We sort out glass bottles, break them and sell to Move-A-Mess. Every week, a truck arrives and pays us N$50 per tonne, per month. If one works hard, you only manage to fill three bags,” said an elderly woman who has been working at the site for seven years.
In addition to selling broken glass bottles, the scavengers also sell cans to a local company that pays them N$5 per kg of tins.
“The money that we make helps to feed our families and pay school fees for our children,” she explained.
Move-A-Mess Operational Manager in the North Willem Coetzee denied that the company promised to provide safety clothes to dozens of scavengers working the dumpsite.
“We just buy broken glass bottles from these women and they are expected to provide themselves with safety clothes,” said Coetzee.
Coetzee confirmed the company pays the women N$50 per tonne.
The health officer of the Oshakati Municipality, Theopoline Kakololo, said her office is aware of people who sift through garbage. She has advised them to wear safety clothes but they chose not to heed this advice, possibly ignorant of the health hazards from the site.
Some of the Othingo residents told New Era they continue to suffer from hazardous black smoke that billows from the municipal dumpsite at the village. “Just because we are poor, we are forced to live with unpleasant smells and rubbish from the dumpsite – the town council does not care about residents of this village,” said one angry man whose house borders the dumpsite.
The villagers complain about their cattle dying because they consume plastic bags blown away and scattered around the area in which their livestock graze.
Complaints aired by villagers since 2002 appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Chief among their grievances is the fact that all the rubbish collected from the town was being dumped there, and when it is set alight, a dark cloud of smoke engulfs the entire village causing many villages to start coughing from thick columns of chocking smoke.
They want the Oshakati Town Council to relocate the site as it endangers their health.
Kakololo said council held a meeting with villagers way back in 2005, explaining that Othingo village has become a hub of waste within the parameters of Oshakati town and thus the residents should leave the place.
“The council explains to these villagers that they are ready to compensate those that are willing to be relocated elsewhere, but only a few moved. The rest were too reluctant to move,” said Kakololo.
The dumpsite, where over 42,000 residents dispose their waste is an eyesore ringed by a half-fence. According to the health official, the dumpsite had a gate but the gate was cut off by desperate dumpsite scavengers who wanted access to the site.
“At some point, we took the police with us to stop them from entering the site but it does not help – they will still sneak in at night,” she said.
They were taught about hazards associated with scavenging by the town council’s health division, said Kakololo.
Oshakati has a population of approximately 42,000, according to figures from the 2001national census. About 70 percent of the inhabitants live in the informal settlements with only 30 percent living in formal areas.