Angola's trash pile-ups verging on 'health catastrophe'

Trash piled up near Kikolo market in Luanda. Photo sent by an Observer.
Trash piled up near Kikolo market in Luanda. Photo sent by an Observer.

Rubbish is piling up everywhere in Angola’s sprawling capital Luanda. Filth and nauseating smells have overwhelmed the city ever since the local authorities admitted that they'd run out of money to pay the garbage collectors. While yellow fever ravages the country - killing an estimated 250 people since December - residents now fear that these unsanitary conditions could further spread disease.

Since mid-2015, mountains of rubbish have piled up across the city, home to some 6.5 million residents. With the city teetering on the verge of a health catastrophe, Angola's government has appointed a new governor in Luanda province, Higino Carneiro, to oversee the process of cleaning up the city's streets. One of his first moves was to announce the creation of an ‘urban command post' to fight the trash crisis. He also warned that if the situation worsens, he may be forced to declare a 'sanitary catastrophe' in the city.

Trash piled up near Kikolo market in Luanda. Photo sent by an Observer. 

But for our Observer Adriano, a young resident of the capital, it's already too late. He's a member of 'Luanda Sem Lixo' [Editor's note: ‘Luanda without trash’], an NGO that spreads public awareness about the risks posed by the garbage. He says that the situation became catastrophic well before the governor's announcement.

"When it rains, water stagnates in the trash, attracting rats and mosquitoes"

Every day, when I leave my home to go to school, I go past mountains and mountains of trash. The crisis has been going on for almost a year.

We live amongst this trash, and it's awful. The smell is overwhelming and sometimes we have to actually walk through the garbage, because we don't have any other choice. It's very difficult to get to landfills and there aren't any bins in the streets. So the residents just dump their trash in the streets, on the pavements or in the gutters.

Some residents try to do what they can to burn the rubbish or to clean up a little. But they can't be expected to do everything, and they definitely don't have the means to do so.

Sometimes trash piles up right next to the city's food markets. It also creates problems for drivers and often causes traffic jams.

What really worries me is that when it rains, water stagnates in the rubbish, creating huge black puddles that attract flies, rats and mosquitoes. That's clearly not a good sign when the country is trying to deal with an outbreak of yellow fever. Several people already claim to have fallen ill because of the squalor in their neighbourhoods.

Stagnant water and trash in Luanda's military district. Photo sent by an Observer. 

Jocelyne (not her real name) is a doctor in Luanda.

The build-up of trash and the lack of hygiene in general contribute to the spread of diseases like yellow fever and malaria. But it also worsens breathing and skin problems, conjunctivitis and meningitis.

If the situation isn't resolved soon, we could also see an outbreak of cholera.

Since the fall of petrol prices, Angola has fallen into a deep financial crisis. Its currency, the kwanza, lost 35 percent of its value compared to the dollar in just one year. This crisis threatens the impoverished country’s already fragile stability. In terms of health, Angola ranks worse in the world in terms of infant death rate, with 167 deaths for every 1,000 births, according to the United Nations.