Cameroon’s economic capital buried under heaps of rubbish

Douala, January 4, 2018. Credit: Atome Blogueur.
Douala, January 4, 2018. Credit: Atome Blogueur.

For the past few months, rubbish has been piling up in the streets of the Cameroonian city of Douala, filling the air with a nauseating smell. While hygiene has always been a problem in the country’s economic capital, our Observers say the situation has become much worse now that the government owes a large amount of money to the country’s only trash collecting company.

"Soon, we won’t be able to move around anymore!” In a video dated December 16, Cameroonian blogger Atome filmed what look like landfills stacking up on the streets in his neighbourhood.

"This is what happens when Hysacam (the company that collects rubbish) stops making rounds,” says the young filmmaker. He’s far from the only concerned citizen to take to social media to complain about the rubbish build-up.

In a Facebook post published in late December, Cameroonian journalist Thierry Ngogang highlighted the sanitary risks posed by the waste, including a spike in the rodent and insect populations, and the toxic gas that can emanate from rubbish.


"We’re used to images of pretty towns decorated for the holidays. Here, we just have rubbish”

The year 2017 was a rough one for Hysacam, the only rubbish-collecting company in Cameroon. At the end of October, Hysacam’s president-director Michel Ngapnoun estimated that his company had received only about 40 percent of the money owed to it by the state, which is responsible for paying for 85 percent of the cost of its services. That same month, Hysacam signed a credit agreement with three banks (Société Générale du Cameroun, Bicec and Ecobank Cameroun) in order to buy 211 trucks and 17 pieces of heavy machinery. But, according to Atome, services haven’t improved, even since these acquisitions.

I’m suffocating in my town. There’s rubbish everywhere, even in the parks and gardens where we go to get some fresh air. Douala has always been dirty, but now there are veritable mountains of rubbish waiting to be collected. This summer, there was a similar issue. To raise awareness, residents launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #poubellechallenge (rubbish challenge), asking people to post pictures of waste in the city.

Since early December, people have been talking more about the waste pile-up, probably because of the holidays. We’re used to images of pretty towns decorated for the holidays. Here, we just have rubbish!

"The mosquitos that gather on moist rubbish can spread diseases”

In December, the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Jean-Claude Mbwentchou, admitted that the government owed Hysacam a large sum of money.

In the same speech, he also announced the end to the company’s monopoly on the rubbish-collecting sector. However, for the time being, the government seems to be struggling to find new partners. Our Douala-based Observer Delone Devilliers says that it is extremely important to get communities involved in managing their own rubbish.

Aside from the collection problems, there is also a real need to raise awareness among the people living in big cities to get them to stop throwing their rubbish all over.

For this to work, the government needs to provide the means for the population to take greater responsibility. For example, if people had rubbish bins and dumpsters, they could collect and store rubbish while waiting for the collection services to come pick it up.

People also need to realise that this lack of hygiene has a direct impact on them. For example, the mosquitoes that gather on moist rubbish can transmit diseases. Mosquito nets are handed out to help prevent the spread of malaria but we don’t analyse the source of the problem.

According to city authorities, the amount of rubbish produced by Doula residents went from 1,200 tonnes a day to 2,000 tonnes a day in less than a year. This increase results from an increase in the urban population as well as the rapid, uncontrolled urban development of the city.