A time-bomb. A hazard slowly developing into a crisis unless the situation is brought under control as a matter of urgency.
That’s how Ministry of Health Inspector Themba Fobo has described Pitso Ground, Sefika and Manonyane taxi rank areas in Maseru due to garbage which has made them no-go neighbourhoods for some residents.
One could hardly stand the overpowering stench in these grime-hotspots that Mr Fobo further called “breeding ground for insects, wombs, flies, mosquitos and rats”.
Businesses have found it difficult to operate in these offensive spots as potential clients give the areas a wide berth for fear of contracting diseases.
“This is not only a nuisance for businesses but homes around this area,” Mr Fobo told the Lesotho Times during a tour of the areas this week.
“As you can see, these hotspots are home to used nappies and condoms, human-stool and urine and in some cases, human-fetuses.”
With changing weather patterns, Mr Fobo said people who dump waste in these areas were not only destroying the environment but ultimately poisoning food prepared around the locality.
“In the morning, we experience cold weather, at noon extremely hot conditions, while our evenings are mostly windy.
“Because of this weather-shift, the odour is at its worst during lunchtime, while the wind blows dust over people’s food.
“The dirty food can cause headaches, fever and diarrhea. Although we don’t have statistics readily available, people are dying because of these hotspots,” Mr Fobo said.
According to Mr Fobo, some people have been diagnosed to be suffering from food-poisoning after eating from restaurants in these areas, thereby tarnishing the reputation of the food outlets.
But according to Mr Fobo, the law does not allow such eateries to use the chemicals in question as they could poison the food, resulting in loss of lives.
The situation, he was quick to add, could be remedied if all stakeholders worked towards turning Maseru into a better place.
“You just heard this lady saying the toilets here have not had water for the past two weeks and people are being forced to relieve themselves in these hotspots, which now have dumpsites,” Mr Fobo added.
This water-scarcity, he further highlighted, was yet another cause for concern especially for street vendors.
“Lack of water means there is a possibility that people are handling food without washing their hands.
“Even if they do wash their hands, how often per day and do they use clean water every time? Do they even wash the towels clients use to wipe their hands?
“Those towels swapping hands are not clean and are a potential health hazard. They are basically not hygienic, which can lead to diarrhea for the clients.”
Giving possible solutions to the garbage problem, Mr Fobo said the Maseru City Council (MCC) should return the large refuse-bins the municipality removed from around the central business district last year because of vandalism.
In addition, Mr Fobo said council should empty them at least three times a week to ensure they do not overflow, which could prompt vendors to burn the refuse, thereby destroying the property and poisoning the environment.
However, he also said the public should be educated on what not to place in such public refuse collection-vessels to ensure their preservation.
“Disposable nappies must not be dumped in town and in these bins. Parents must remove the stool, dry and burn the nappies or dig a hole and place them there. Educational programmes about such hygienic way of life should be introduced to ensure a healthy environment and healthy nation,” said Mr Fobo.
On the waste’s impact on the environment, Mr Fobo said people can end up consuming unsafe water because of such reckless disposal of waste.
“You see this dirty water? It can end up in water-pipes, hence some people will have dirty water coming out of their tapes. This can lead to health-complications, so the effects of this garbage on residents and the environment should not be underestimated.”
A manager at a restaurant which is very popular around the area, told the Lesotho Times the garbage was proving a nuisance to the business, echoing Mr Fobo’s sentiments.
“You see this blackish colour on the ceiling? It is the result of tyres that are burnt just close by here at night by street-kids. The smoke finds its way into the shop, resulting in this grime. Who knows, the smoke could be affecting the food here,” he told the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity.
A vendor operating a food-shack in the area also said the illegal dumpsites were negatively affecting his business.
“We see disgusting things like used condoms and fetuses and we are forced to clean the rubbish at times, to make sure our customers are not offended and don’t abandon this area for good. We do it to make sure our businesses remain operational because this where we earn our living. But as things stand, this whole area is literally a vast toilet, and nobody wants to do business in such filthy conditions.”
Yet the removal of MCC containers has been a blessing in disguise for other businesses in the Sefika Taxi Rank area.
A vendor at the rank, Moeketsi Sebotsa, said the big facilities were obstructing his business from potential clients.
The big, brown/black refuse-containers were being used by council as collection points, thereby ensuring no dumpsites sprung-up in the middle of the city.
However, every time they reached their capacity, vendors and at time street-kids and sex-workers, would burn the trash at night, hence their change of colour from brown to black.
Sebotsa (25) said the bins made life a misery for him because of odour, flies and flying-dirt during windy days.
“These conditions were chasing away my customers and I was finding it difficult to sustain the business.
“I was about to move away from here when the MCC removed all such bins from around town,” he said.
However, council spokesperson, Lintle Bless, said it was illegal to burn rubbish in such containers and in the city.
“The bins are made in such a way that they can only accommodate dry refuse but vendors have continued to pour water into them. In addition, they also burn the refuse, despite both acts not being allowed by council bylaws,” Ms Bless said.
“This is illegal, and also threatens people’s lives. A few people might be happy that the bins have been removed but the fact remains that we cannot live without them.”
Ms Bless also said most of those who found the bins a nuisance were operating their businesses in undesignated areas.
“They might have permits to occupy such places, but not to run catering businesses as there is no space for the disposal of waste, particularly liquids,” Ms Bless.
For instance, she said, vendors operating at a marketplace next to Pitso Ground Police Station can have catering businesses only.
“That place is only meant for caterers and not these other businesses that are there now.”
Asked why the “big bins” were removed from the streets, Ms Bless said vandalism had forced council’s hand.
“They were removed last year; some will be repaired and returned to their initial locations while others, which we believed were causing problems, would be placed elsewhere.”
Ms Bless urged the vendors to work closely with council in keeping Maseru clean by reporting those operating without permits as they were the mostly likely offenders.
She also said sex-workers were destroying the bins as they burnt papers inside them to keep warm as they prowl the streets at night.
Asked about the garbage hotspots, Ms Bless said it was worrying that residents continued to create dumpsites in town despite measures council took to ensure this did not happen.
“We have boards clearly indicating that those are not dumping sites but people continue to do so. We are also using different mediums to educate people about dumping garbage anywhere they please as we strongly believe we need to change people’s mindsets in order to win this war,” Ms Bless said.
She also urged businesses to inform council officials of the culprits.
“I really don’t understand why people operating around those areas are not alerting us of these offenders, unless they are the culprits themselves.”