There’s always a terrible smell wafting over the streets of the Medina Coura neighbourhood in Bamako. That’s because there is a massive landfill at the center of this neighbourhood, filled with rubbish that the cash-strapped local authorities have failed to transport to official landfills outside the city. The dump isn’t just a nuisance to local residents – it is also putting their health at risk. The whole situation underscores the city’s lack of resources and the need to raise awareness amongst the population about issues of sanitation.
The site in Bamako’s Commune II (the capital of Mali is made of six districts or communes) was set up as a sort of transit zone to hold rubbish temporarily before it was transported to a landfill site outside of town. The rubbish wasn’t supposed to sit there any longer than 62 hours maximum.
Adama Kone, the former director of the city’s sanitation department, supervised the creation of the transit zone in 2006. He said: "The city and the state didn’t have the resources to bring the rubbish directly to the landfill site outside of town. That would require too much fuel, a significant workforce and lots of planning. Instead, local associations take care of rubbish collection. They employ young people to pick up waste and bring it to the transit zone.”
The result is that the rubbish piled up quickly, especially when waste started to be brought in from Communes I and III. The landfill is having a terrible effect on the lives of locals, according to our Observer, Mohammed Lamine Diako, who is a student in international management in Bamako. He has lived his whole life in Medina-Coura. He took photos and videos that show the scope of the landfill and its proximity to homes.
"The only way to avoid the stench is to stay at home without ever opening up the windows…”
The waste has been piling up here for the past 15 years. What was supposed to be a transit zone turned into a landfill. The rubbish generally stays there for two to three months. You see a bit of everything – from plastic to electronics to spoiled food items.
This landfill is right by some busy areas. There is a school, a community health centre and the Modibo-Keïta stadium, which hosts a lot of League 1 football matches and concerts.
The landfill is right by a school. (Video by our Observer Mohammed Lamine Diako.)
The stench is intolerable for the people who go to these places and for those who live nearby. It’s hard to breathe no matter the season. The only way to avoid the smell is to stay home and never open up the windows.
The landfill is near a stadium. (Video by our Observer Mohammed Lamine Diako.)
This landfill is a public health issue. The rubbish attracts mosquitoes and the rate of malaria has increased in the neighbourhood. A lot of people with malaria end up at the local health centre. I myself had malaria two weeks ago.
In 2016, young people in the neighbourhood took to the streets to demonstrate and say that they had had enough, but the city brought in the police who cracked down on the protests.
Shortly after students went back to school in October, the headmaster evacuated the school, saying that it was impossible for the children to study in such poor conditions. Shortly thereafter, trucks came to pick up some of the rubbish but, a few days later, the rubbish had already piled up to the same levels again.
Students at Mamadou Diarra N°2 School protest the landfill.
Failure to pay up
In 2014, the government and city officials hired a private company called Ozone to manage rubbish removal. The former director of the city sanitation department, Adama Koné, who is now an adviser to Ozone management, says that the government and city officials didn’t hold up their end of the deal.
"Ozone Mali is in charge of collecting rubbish according to an agreement signed with the government and city officials in September 2014. But since, Ozone has only been paid sporadically. In total, they owe us 17 billion CFA francs [around 26 million euros]. We have the materials needed to make the collection run properly but we can’t continue [in these conditions].”
Scarcely 10% of residents pay municipal taxes, says the city
"The city and the state are recovering after a crisis,” admits Adama Sangaré, the mayor of Bamako. "We called for a moratorium with Ozone, which they accepted. They are supposed to continue emptying out the landfill.”
The mayor siad that that it was a difficult task for the company.
"The locals’ behaviour is a problem,” he daid. “The associations that bring rubbish to the landfill often dump it outside the site to save time. Also, scarcely 10% of the population actually pay municipal taxes. We are trying to raise awareness about that.”
The mayor added that the only real landfill is located about 32 kilometres from the city and it fills up quickly.