Urban Waste Crisis: Which policy for managing household solid and similar waste in Yaounde?

Context

Urban policy includes the management of waste in cities (1). It demonstrates the capacity of local authorities to manage waste from households and industries at the local level. In Cameroon, this competence is transferred to the Decentralized Territorial Collectivities (DTC) by Law No. 2019/024 of 24 December 2019 and governed by Law No. 96/12 of 5 August 1996 relating to the framework law on environmental management. The latter defines concepts and responsibilities in waste management. Thus, according to the aforementioned law, “waste” means any residue from the production, transformation or utilization process, any substance or material produced or, more generally, any movable or immovable property abandoned or intended to be thrown away.”  Meanwhile “Waste management” means “the collection, transport, recycling and disposal of waste, including the monitoring of disposal sites”. In terms of responsibilities, article 46 paragraph 1 of this framework law on the environment provides that: “ decentralized local authorities ensure the disposal of waste produced by households, possibly in liaison with the competent State services … ” ( 2 ). Paragraph 2 of the same article translates this responsibility for action by specifying that local authorities “ shall ensure that all unauthorized waste disposal is prohibited; shall ensure the disposal, if necessary with the assistance of competent State services or approved companies of abandoned waste” (Ibid.) Despite these legal requirements regarding waste management, insalubrity is rampant in the streets and in authorized or unauthorized sites in the city of Yaoundé. The rapid demographic growth and increasing industrialization of the city have increased daily waste production ( 3 ). In 2015, a report from Environnement Recherche Action in Cameroon estimated the daily tonnage of waste from Hygiène et Salubrité du Cameroun (HYSACAM) – a French acronym meaning hygiene and sanitation in Cameroon, at 400 or even 500 tons; an average of around 40% of national production. Although all actors involved in the waste management chain agree on the need to definitively eradicate this problem, opinions however differ when it is necessary to share responsibilities. This article seeks to analyze the reasons for the poor management of household solid waste in the city of Yaoundé (I) and then propose strategies to eradicate insalubrity in the city (II).

  1. Weaknesses in the local management of household solid waste in the city of Yaoundé

The management of household solid waste in Cameroon involves several actors whose respective fields of competence are governed by various laws and regulations. An in-depth analysis of this legal framework highlights an overlapping of responsibilities that has negative effects on waste management in the city of Yaoundé.

Indeed, the management of household solid waste in Cameroon involves institutions responsible for planning, guidance and control; implementing and managing bodies; and funding bodies ( 4 ). Planning, guidance and control institutions are essentially ministerial departments (Ministry of the Environment and Nature Protection, Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, etc.). Each ministry ensures national coordination of a particular aspect of waste management, starting from the development of sectoral master plans for environmental protection to the development and implementation of quality control programs, drainage, collection and treatment of waste, the development of hygiene and sanitation standards, as well as the development of sanitation standards in Cameroonian cities (Ibid.). The responsibilities of these ministries are carried out at the local level by the decentralized services (ministerial delegations) and the decentralized territorial collectivities (DTC). However, this multiplicity of institutional actors leads to conflicts of competence and intervention, which causes a mutual rejection of responsibilities in the event of dysfunction ( 5 ). This conflict dynamic is also observed at the level of institutions implementing sectoral solid waste management strategies in Cameroon.

These implementing institutions include Decentralized Territorial Communities (DTC) and non-governmental actors (associations that deal with waste collection and management and private sector actors made up of individual companies and groups of people) ( 6 ). The DTC benefits from a transfer of competencies on environmental issues, specifically in the management of household solid waste. However, their powers are exercised in this regard under the supervision of the State. This supervision extends the administrative and financial circuit to the extent that the negotiations of contracts with health services and the payment of related invoices involve several institutions at the same time. In addition, the transfer of competencies is not always followed by the transfer of sufficient financial resources. Of course, the DTC levies a tax intended to finance the removal and treatment of waste, but it is only recently that the “modalities for centralization, distribution and repayment ” were established by decree No. 2019/7358 / PM of 17  December  2019 ( 7 ). On July 24, 2023, this tax was supplemented following the decree of the Prime Minister establishing the terms of recovery, centralization, distribution and repayment of the product of the special excise duty intended to finance the removal and the waste treatment for the benefit of the DTC. The main supplement is that the DTC now benefits from 95% of the collection from excise duty as compared to 90% established in the previous decree ( 8 ). However, it must be emphasized that this tax on the collection and treatment of waste in Cameroon has a low yield of less than 10% in Yaoundé ( 9 ).

In addition to this financial problem, the DTCs including the Yaoundé City Council (CUY) do not have the necessary equipment to ensure waste collection. Added to this is an overlapping of responsibilities between urban councils and sub-divisional councils which creates managerial conflicts.

As regards non-governmental actors, they make waste management a private, income-generating initiative. Their contribution to the execution of general missions is based on Law No. 90/053 of 19 December 1990 relating to freedom of association in Cameroon. Also faced with financial difficulties, the actions of non-governmental actors are generally confined to the boundaries of a neighbourhood.

Finally, the funding bodies are made up of the Ministry of Finance (MINFI), the Special Council Support Fund for Mutual Assistance (FEICOM) and external donors ( 10 ). The MINFI finances the collection and management of waste on the one hand with “the financing of the State ‘s share in the payment of the services of the concessionary companies and on the other hand through its role as collector and distributor of supplementary taxes which constitute the main source of municipal revenue regarding waste management” (Ibid.). FEICOM on its part acts as a DTC bank, by centralizing 95% of the collection from excise duty and redistributing it to urban communities and subdivisions, taking into account the population and the institutional status of urban areas among others ( 11 ). Donors’ support for waste collection, involves “the study and construction of infrastructure, in specific treatment units, the development of landfills; operational support for labour-intensive sanitation projects; feasibility studies of treatment sectors and the creation of urban development master plans, etc. “. Considering this arrangement of financial structures in Cameroon, one might believe that the financing of household solid waste does not suffer from any problem in Cameroon. However, the rapid rise of insalubrity in Yaoundé also results from the State’s non-compliance with the contractual obligations emanating from the contract between the State of Cameroon, the company HYSACAM and the DTC. Indeed, the numerous strikes by HYSACAM employees which always lead to the rapid growth of insalubrity result from unpaid salaries by the Cameroonian public treasury which covers 85% of the bill, meanwhile the DTC under contract with this company only covers 15% ( 12 ). In addition to this, an article published by the newspaper Investir au Cameroun shows that the resources allocated to waste collection in Cameroon are very insufficient (Ibid.). For example, in the city of Yaoundé alone, the government has estimated waste collection at 4.7 billion for the year 2023, while a World Bank study of 2016 shows that this city alone requires 15 billion to ensure waste collection (Ibid.).

  1. The need to rethink waste governance in Yaoundé for a sustainably clean city

In view of the weaknesses detected in the waste collection and treatment chain in Cameroon in general, and in the city of Yaoundé in particular, it is necessary to rethink waste governance to eradicate the problem of insalubrity which persists there. To do this end, several actions must be carried out at the national, local and business levels.

At the national level, effective decentralization should be implemented, especially the transfer of competencies and resources in order to give the DTC the technical and financial means which will enable them to effectively manage waste in their localities. Indeed, the problem of insalubrity in the city of Yaoundé is primarily linked to funding difficulties, because according to the head of HYSACAM, the irregularity of payment of its services by the State explains the limitation of its interventions in the city ( 13 ). Consequently, the strategy of changing or adding a new operator as observed in Yaoundé with the arrival of the company Thychlof Sarl ( 14 ), is not adequate and still does not succeed in eradicating the problem of insalubrity.

In the same financial dynamic, it will be necessary to renegotiate the contract between the Yaoundé councils and the hygiene service provider in order to adapt it to sociological (demographic and territorial growth) and economic (increase in the price of hydrocarbons) realities. Indeed, the contract binding the CUY to HYSACAM contains shortcomings which, if transferred to the contract of the new operator, are likely to perpetuate the issue of insalubrity. According to this contract, waste collection in Yaoundé is set at a maximum of 1000 tonnes per day, while the city produces more than 2000 tonnes per day ( 15 ). Consequently, excess waste collected, transported and treated is the responsibility of HYSACAM (Ibid.). In addition, this contract limits the operator’s interventions to garbage bins placed in the streets, while a large part of the waste also comes from the lowlands (Ibid.) and its non-collection clogs the gutters causing flooding.

At the local level, the State and the DTC must clarify the competencies of the different actors involved in waste management in order to shorten the administrative and financial circuit. Furthermore, the DTC, mainly those of Yaoundé, must strengthen their collaboration in order to compensate for the shortcomings that some may have in the management of waste in their localities. In the same dynamic, this inter-communal cooperation will enable them to set up innovative projects and seek synergy for national and international subsidies to finance them.

At the individual level, the aim is to encourage the initiatives of private actors in the collection, transport and treatment of household solid waste in order to maintain a waste economy. To do this, populations must change the way they manage waste, that is to say, consider it as a source of income or as “something” that can be reused in another form. This implies the creation of startups focused on the exploitation of waste and the emergence of recycling and waste recovery sectors.

Hygiene service providers in the city of Yaoundé should consider increasing their human resources and infrastructure and adapting them to the geographical configurations of the city. For example, using trucks in streets and neighbourhoods with wide lanes and using tricycles in neighbourhoods with narrower lanes.

Conclusion and recommendations

The management of household solid waste in Yaoundé is an urgent matter to be resolved. It involves the health of the populations and the image of the capital and therefore that of Cameroon. Only effective decentralization and integrated waste management, that is management shared by several actors with clearly defined responsibilities, can definitively resolve the problem of salubrity in Yaoundé.

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Aboudi Vanessa is a Research Associate in the Democracy and Governance Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Yaoundé II and is particularly interested in governance and gender issues. She is the author and co-author of several articles published in national and international journals.

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JENGU Guy Beaudry est doctorant à l’Université de Yaoundé II, Soa et chef du département tendances et conjonctures du Centre Africain de Recherche en Sciences Morales et Politiques (CARES-MP). Il est particulièrement intéressé par les questions de sociologie des relations internationales et les études stratégiques.

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