Gardening and garbage

"Gardening and garbage" Continued...

Issue: "Building a city," March 24, 2007

Poor countries often fight to prevent locals from stealing or vandalizing public property, and Zambia is no different. On Lusaka's streets, thieves stole the portable garbage cans Kabungo's unit trotted out. Kabungo has to come up with concrete bins with metal liners that open only with a key, but for now, those are still in the design phase.

If garbage collection in Lusaka is at least on the road to improvement, the city's wealthier side is prospering more. A hugely popular strip mall called Manda Hill opened seven years ago on the Great East Road, a major highway that runs almost 400 miles from Lusaka to Malawi. There's Game, a Wal-Mart-like South African chain; an Irish pub; and a Subway, the only American fast-food chain in the country. The spot draws well-to-do locals, expatriates, and ever-present Western aid workers who come ostensibly to solve Africa's woes, along with dazed tourists who unwind after roughing it through the continent. Up the road, a new movie theater offers $2.50 matinees on the latest Hollywood and Bollywood flicks, and an always-packed internet café charges about 4 cents a minute to use its high-speed internet.

Wealthy Lusaka residents-who would be middle-class by American standards-live in peaceful suburbs east of downtown in homes bordered by razor-wire-topped walls to deter burglars. Water tanks in yards compensate for the city's fickle supply, and these residents usually hire maids and gardeners who commute in from shanty compounds.

Aid from Denmark has helped jump-start Lusaka's garbage collection, but changing local attitudes will take longer. Most residents have gone so long without paying for trash collection-even through taxes-that doing so is a new concept. Litterbugs may toss their trash on the roadside but believe it is the city's fault alone that streets are dirty.

Kabungo says a public awareness "Keep Lusaka Clean" campaign is helping. In other small ways, he said, the practical wins out: More crowding means some residents no longer have room to burn trash in their yards and will pay for trash collection instead.

Much of Lusaka looks as it did at independence and keeps its small-town feel. But multiplying shanties along with flourishing strip malls show the city has a more checkered story. New policies may help uncollected garbage to slowly dwindle, but with a rapidly increasing population and without a city plan, Lusaka may be a long way from returning to its original garden state.


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