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While Namibia is fortunate to have a relatively litter-free environment, there are some serious problem areas, says Rod Braby, Chief Warden of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism based in Swakopmund. One of these is the central coastal area, where the litter problem just will not go away.
Regular clean-up actions do little to stem the tide of rubbish left by tourists, residents, recreational anglers, the harbours and associated shipping activities. Poorly managed waste sites along the coast add to the problem. The culture of discarding unwanted trash requires a radical paradigm shift and a generation or more to disappear completely. We need to change our assumption that the earth has an infinite capacity to absorb all our trash.
Awareness is being created on the coast with numerous campaigns initiated through partnerships between Government and other organisations. Local businesses have also assisted in addressing the problem with clean-up actions. A committee consisting of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Namibian Ports Authorities (NAMPORT), Erongo Regional Council (ERC), the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications (MWTC), the local authorities (Walvis Bay Municipality) and some Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), such as Namib Marine Services, Namsov and Fisheries Observer Agency (FOA), has been formed on the coast. The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and the National Biodiversity Programme (NBP) have helped fund a marine pollution awareness and educational campaign. Some local consultants have been appointed to assist in the campaign.
The Marine Pollution Prevention Committee (MPPC) sits quarterly and is beginning to show some local results, mainly regarding awareness on fishing boats. It recently spearheaded a major clean-up action between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, with a sponsorship from Namib Films on World Environment Day on June 5. Over 350 bags of litter were collected with a further 57 collected between Mile 8 and Mile 14. The Walvis Bay Municipality pays contractors to clean the beaches and toilets between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay on a weekly basis. To address the coastal anglers, the MFMR issues fishing permits and is looking at ways to make littering a serious offence.
In the early 1980s conservation staff became tired of cleaning up after irresponsible anglers and placed litter disposal enclosures at strategic places. This system worked satisfactorily until the enclosures became dumping sites for more than just angling rubbish. Black-backed jackal soon found ways to get into the enclosures and regularly distributed litter into the surrounding area. When Namibia Wildlife Resorts was established new arrangements had to be made. Information signs and a major campaign were initiated to encourage anglers to take their rubbish ‘home’ as in the official campsite along the coast or the accommodation establishment they were staying at. Lazy anglers chose to dump their rubbish in the toilets along the coast or even right next to the signs requesting them to take their rubbish home.
Plastic water bottles, yellow bait boxes and plastic shopping bags form the major portion of litter along the coast. Fishing tackle, glass bottles, nylon packaging straps, fishing cotton reels, braaivleis debris, aluminium foil, beer cans, cigarette packaging, bits of processed wood, rope, and numerous other nuisance items make up the remainder. By far the greatest local and indeed global litter problem is plastic, as it constitutes the major portion of litter and causes the most marine organism fatalities.
Litter is waste that has been misplaced. It needs to be re-covered and brought into the formal waste stream, where it can be managed with the resources that are available. It costs up to three times as much to collect and dispose of litter that is not in the formal waste stream. Somehow these costs must be avoided.
We have reached the stage where we need to change behaviour and attitudes rather than organising one-off clean-up campaigns. It is human beings and their inclination to litter that are the fundamental problem, not the litter itself. If all individuals, communities, local authorities, and commercial and industrial enterprises did everything in their power to optimise their individual waste management strategies, our environment would benefit and so would our children.
Since waste generation in-creases with the GDP, recycling is not enough. Fortunately waste management is currently being addressed nationally. It is hoped that our legislation pertaining to environmental management in general will assist the local initiatives to develop tools that will be successful.
This article appeared in the 2004/5 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.