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Story Publication logo June 26, 2013

Stolen Trash Bins Contribute to Malaria, Flooding


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A push-pull between Ghana’s residents and its department of waste management has been ongoing—trash...

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A clogged storm drain in Accra, Ghana. This drain, like many others in Ghana, contains stagnant water –– promoting mosquito breeding and malaria, a leading cause of death in the country. Choked drains also increase the threat of floods. Image by Diksha Bali. Ghana, 2013.

There are no public trash bins to be seen in most areas in Ghana. Yet, equally surprisingly, there is little trash to be seen on its streets.

The gutters, however, are a different issue.

Although local governments in Ghana employ private waste management companies to sweep the streets and clean the gutters, there are a number of gutters that the private companies are not mandated to clean — stagnant gutters that serve as a breeding ground for pestilence.

The effects of clogged gutters are "very, very significant," according to Ben Anhwere, an administrative officer at the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly's (KMA) Waste Management Department in Kumasi, the capital city of Ghana's Ashanti region.

"These drains become breeding grounds for mosquitoes," he said, shaking his head. When clogged, they create stagnant pools of water, providing an ideal haven for these pests, he added. Malaria is currently one of the leading causes of death in Ghana.

These drains were originally designed as storm drains to collect rainwater and prevent flooding, Anhwere said. "If these open drains get choked when it rains, it becomes an issue," increasing the threat of floods. 

But residents complain that they have no viable outlets other the streets and drains for their trash.

"When you drink water, you don't even have a place to put it," said resident Jones Amakye, gesturing to one of the many plastic water sachets that are used for drinking water. "You just hold it or throw it somewhere."

According to Amakye, the solution is simple. "We are not able to [dispose of litter] because there are no bins in town," he said. So bins should be provided, he said, and those who do not use them should be fined.

Although Amakye's solution is simple, the problem is not so easily solved.

KMA Waste Management officer Tina Boateng said that a few years back Kumasi used to have trash bins lining the street at every 100 meters. However, authorities quickly discovered their trash bins were being stolen at an alarming rate.

What is more, Boateng said, when the bins were not being stolen, many people used to fill them with household waste. This made waste collection extremely difficult, as the trucks the KMA had deployed could not handle the amount and weight of waste being collected. It also meant that people often didn't find a place to put their trash even if they chose to use the litter bins, she said. Once the trash bins were stolen or broke down, the KMA "simply stopped replacing them," she said.

There are two steps the KMA needs to take to prevent littering and its consequences, Boateng said. First, people need to be educated on the unsavory consequences of litter. Next, people need to have viable outlets for their trash.

"Our educational efforts [don't] free us from the responsibility of placing bins. We have to educate and do our part of the bargain by placing bins at vantage points," Boateng said.


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