When issues of pollution are discussed, reported and presented, it’s normally the discourse of air pollution that supersedes that of landfills. Without undermining the role of air pollution in the global warming matrix, I’m convinced that landfills are equally demonic in nature, scope and content. So many people are engaged in pollution activities, consciously and unconsciously. Issues of pollution are experienced, day in and day out. Why nations tend to give prominence to air pollution without taking into account land pollution is still a mystery.
guest column: Peter Makwanya
Both air and land pollution are strange bad fellows and agents of destruction of high proportions. Landfills are sites designated for dumping rubbish, garbage and other sources of solid waste, while air pollution is a result of burning fossil fuels, bushes and garbage. Normally, when many people don’t see any smoke, to them there is no pollution. They need to see chunks of grey matter caressing the skies for them to actually ascertain the presence of pollution without taking into account activities of landfills comprising solid and liquid waste, garbage, market waste, obsolete electronic products and mine dust.
For quite some time, landfills were the most common means of disposing solid waste, especially in urban areas but currently, due to overpopulation of urban centres and the broken down of service delivery systems and poor governance by municipalities, mainly in the developing countries, landfills have become more of a sore-sight. When one looks at the large amounts of garbage and industrial waste (solid and liquid), deposited into human lifelines and sources of livelihoods like streams, rivers, dams and lakes, one would usually pose a question on whether the municipal correspondences or reporters are still available in developing countries.
Of course, one cannot deny the fact there is accelerating air-pollution as a result of burning bushes, like what is currently obtaining during this time of the year, complemented by fossil fuel mining, thermal power production and burning garbage. But the activities that take place on and under the ground due chemicals and industrial waste as well as decomposition of materials that release toxins, land pollution should not be ignored as well.
As many local authorities struggle with issues of bad governance, increased urbanisation, population growth, urban wetland farming and poor service deliveries, waste disposal systems are poorly managed, leading into the damage of the land, the environment and underground ecosystems balance. According to prevailing research, landfills emit about more than 10 toxic gases which include the dangerous methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes significantly to global warming. Also due to truancy and insolence in the mining industry, where gold-panners and other small-scale miners have been christened as artisanal miners in Zimbabwe, land degradation and dust pollution goes on unabated, especially in the advent of week arresting powers and environmental policies.
From the local perspective, before people can be articulate and be knowledgeable about climate change issues, it is significant that they become proficient on issues of pollution first. It is not helpful to bombard the local people and harass them with confusing climate change vocabulary before they cannot identify even the basic forms of pollution, whether land or air. The environment is the people’s immediate reality hence they need to know how best to manage basic issues of pollution within and around their contexts of situations. Also being conscious about the quality of water they drink and the cleanliness of the air they breathe are other critical considerations to take into account.
It is the environment which is with the confinements of the grassroots, as such, there are issues that they can easily identify with and relate so as to make sense of their worldviews. But the locals, who are indeed the custodians of the environment, are not given a chance to manoeuvre as they are always at the mercy scientific experts as omniscient narrators and politicians as architects of graft and confusion. When the locals see politicians hogging the limelight through grandstanding, they will simply withdraw into the background and as a result they will end up thinking that issues of managing and understanding pollution are not for them, as the common souls but for the elite.
Furthermore, the locals have been managing their environment, ever since, through appropriate implementation of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) without having to worry much about issues of atmospheric physics and GIS.
Carbon dioxide as greenhouse gas remains the widely known and the leading pollutant with high potential for causing global warming. Why pollution is very much prevalent in developing countries is because of the glaring development and technological gaps separating the developing countries from the developed countries. While in Europe it is the norm to cycle to work and travel in solar powered trains that are pollution free, in Africa it is a different thing altogether as they are so obsessed with driving, especially second hand cars that emit lots of carbon, with the potential of doubling pollution.
All in all, it is significant to re-orient each other on all forms of pollution so that people stay well informed and sustainably knowledgeable of these factors.
Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org