Solid Waste Disposal in Victoria Falls Town: Spatial Dynamics, Environmental Impacts, Health Threats and Socio-economic Benefits.
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The sanitary disposal of solid wastes constitutes one of the most pressing challenges facing urban authorities in Zimbabwe. In recent years, there has been considerable increase in illegal waste dumping, which indicates that throughout the country, urban waste disposal systems are inefficient and environmentally unsafe. While there are numerous studies, which have focused on solid waste management in Zimbabwe, existing research has concentrated mostly on: (i) large cities especially Harare and sidelined small towns; and (ii) all elements of the solid waste management system and accorded least attention to disposal. To date, no study has attempted to quantify the impacts of urban solid waste disposal in Zimbabwe. Against the above backdrop, this study analyses the spatial dynamics, environmental impacts, health threats and socio-economic benefits of solid waste disposal in Victoria Falls town. In order to satisfy the above objectives, 14 soil samples were collected from study plots systematically positioned along 2 transects at the municipal dump and analysed for cadmium, lead and zinc content using the atomic absorption method at the Institute of Mining Research at the University of Zimbabwe. Data regarding the number, location, and size of solid waste dumps in Victoria Falls town, were obtained through field surveys and use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver. The area occupied by each waste dump was calculated using Integrated Land and Water Information System (ILWIS) 3.1 Geographical Information System (GIS) software package. Analogue maps such as soil, topographical and land use maps of Victoria Falls town were converted into digital format through scanning and onscreen digitising using ILWIS GIS. This was done to facilitate spatial data analysis through measurement and overlay operations. Data on the population and feeding habits of Papio ursinus (chacma baboons) were obtained from field surveys involving physical counts and tracking of troops. To gather information on solid waste management practices and various impacts of waste disposal in Victoria Falls town, a total of 262 questionnaires were administered over a two-week period in October of 2002 using the face-to-face interview method. Respondents who included household heads, municipal officials, Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officials, representatives of commercial establishments, workers employed in the solid waste management sector and informal waste harvesters were selected using stratified random, purposeful and convenient sampling methods. Secondary data were obtained from detailed review of available literature especially municipal budget statements, clinical records, waste generation records and relevant publications. The study established that solid waste disposal, which is achieved mostly through crude tipping and widespread illegal dumping in Victoria Falls town has resulted in the emergence of 14 open waste dumps that have become quasi-permanent features of the town’s landscape. These open waste dumps, 13 of which are illegal, spoil 3.318ha of municipal land. The study also established that solid waste disposal practices in the town particularly crude dumping cause soil contamination by heavy metals, visual pollution and seriously threaten public health with waste workers and residents of Chinotimba high density residential area and informal settlements being the most vulnerable. The beneficial impacts identified are that crude waste dumping tends to stabilise and boost the population of some wildlife species especially P. ursinus, which scavenges daily from the municipal dump. The study further established that solid waste harvesting and recycling are now some of the major sources of food and cash incomes for some of the economically disadvantaged communities in Victoria Falls town. Based on the above findings, the study recommends that Victoria Falls Municipality should speedily eliminate all open waste dumps starting by those in residential areas; increase fines for illegal dumping so that they act as strong deterrents to illegal dumpers; increase refuse charges to keep them in line with rising inflation; and provide protective clothing to all employees involved in street sweeping, refuse collection and dumpsite management so as to safeguard their health.