Clean My Settlement: A Community Led Campaign to Clean Up Illegal Dumping Sites In Kawale 1

In Malawi, a local NGO – the Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE), is supporting the communities of Kawale 1, Kawale 2, and Kaliyeka with nature-based solutions (NBS) approaches in an effort to combat the effects of flooding incidents in the settlements. The program is being supported by SIDA and UN-Habitat under the project Building Resilience of Informal Settlements through Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) and Biodiversity Actions (UB) in Lilongwe City, Malawi. The project is targeting the three informal settlements of Kawale 1, Kawale 2, and Kaliyeka. This write-up aims to highlight the dire situation that Kawale 1 is currently in by accentuating the situation to determine what both the community and stakeholders can do to improve waste management in the settlement.


The community ofKawale 1 is classified as a traditional housing area (THA) but this status has not saved it from choking under the weight of mountains of waste that have plagued Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. Research that was conducted in 2019 revealed that the city produces an estimated 250 metric tons of waste per day (Kamakanda, 2019). Kawale, like many communities in the city, is characterized by a high population density and informality. The 2018 National Statistics Office (NSO) report indicates that the community has an estimated population of 30,000 people.  The high population is exerting a strain on resources and it is also a big blow to the provision of basic services in the area. Among the various issues facing Kawale 1, waste management is one of them. Waste management has become a significant challenge in Kawale because of several failures in the system – including the failure to include communities in the waste management value chain.

The existing situation

Our engagements with the community are indicating that the waste management services from the Lilongwe city council are not covering households. The council is only providing scanty services in public places like the main markets. the main markets are very far away from people’s homes. This has left households to fend for themselves when they have to dispose of solid waste.

Common types of waste

As is typical of urban Malawi, waste coming from Kawale families ranges from broken electronics, broken glass, single-use baby diapers, and biodegradables like a waste foodstuff. Waste from Kawale 1 is not segregated at the source. This escalates the danger posed to people who dispose of it as well as those who have the misfortune of living near the numerous illegal dumpsites across the community.

The current waste management arrangements

The vacuum left by the lack of provision of waste management by the city council has presented an extremely lucrative business opportunity that the private sector has tapped into. Private citizens with logistical capacities – the private waste collectors, have set up businesses to make daily or weekly visits to their customers’ households to collect waste which they then empty at the city’s designated landfill in Area 38 also called Mchitanjiru dumpsite. However, as convenient as these businesses have been in collecting waste from households, they barely begin to provide the services needed daily to rid the community of its tons of waste which ushers in the next group of investors. there are two issues that have led to their failure to reach out to more people. Firstly, there is an affordability challenge as most households in the community cannot afford to pay the monthly subscriptions which are in the region of MK 3,500 – MK 5,000. Secondly, the private waste collectors do not have the capacity to reach out to many families. Communities have bemoaned the tendency of some private waste collectors of dumping waste within the settlements and in the process contribute to the illegal dumping of waste.

Further, for households that cannot afford the slightly higher prices than private waste collection companies are providing in Kawale 1, there are groups of small-scale entrepreneurs – mostly young men, who usually operate individually going from household to household making rounds in waste collection. These small-scale entrepreneurs are usually equipped with only a shovel and a wheelbarrow that they use to collect waste. These entrepreneurs are contributing massively to illegal waste dumping.  It is very common in Kawale to find these small-scale entrepreneurs dumping waste in the illegal dumpsites in the community and they are not held to any account. We are of the view that the exponential growth in the number of illegal dumpsites in Kawale is a direct result of an inability to regulate this group of workers.

Lastly, other households chose to circumvent the costs that come with the two options mentioned above by digging a rubbish pit within their compound. This takes care of the problems at least for a while because a rubbish pit will again need to be emptied when it fills up. A typical rubbish pit in Kawale takes anywhere from six to 12 months to fill up and the huge amount of waste accumulated over time introduces a different kind of challenge. This is because a household rubbish pit is a dumpsite and, in most cases, the same people making daily rounds to collect waste are called to empty it. This is not sustainable because while illegal dumping stalled for the period in which the pit is being used, the rubbish is likely to still end up at an illegal dumpsite. And with the diminishing landholding size, this option is not viable in the long run.

The necessity of Clean-up and its Launch

The hazards posed by illegal waste cannot be overstated. Waste has chocked water stormwater drains and rivers resulting in increased incidents of flooding in the three communities. Because of this reason, the Centre for Community Organisation Development (CCODE) is working with Kawale communities to bring some sanity to the waste situation in the community. The project has supported in setting up of the ward sanitation committee that is responsible for coordinating efforts to start engaging all the stakeholders including investors as well as households in bringing awareness to the need to manage waste properly.

The data that the project has collected in the community shows a strong correlation between illegal dumping and the flooding that has plagued the community every rainy season for the past ten years. Over the past decade, every year, people dump all kinds of waste in the numerous illegal dumpsites. When the rains come, they wash off most of the rubbish piled up in these places creating a wall of debris as it flows towards the river. 

towards the river. 

All the debris washed up from the illegal dumpsites in upper Kawale 1 ends up in the river and clogs up the underside of the ridge, which causes water to flow over the bridge onto the road above

This debris clogs up waterways, the under-road rings, and other parts of the community which have been designed to safely let water pass and the result is the water breaking its boundaries and flooding into people’s homes. Evidence of this phenomenon remains down at the river where a huge pile of debris from the just-ended rainy seasons, has been forcing the water over the bridge. This water eventually rendered the road impassable and, in some parts, even reached houses that have encroached on the riverbanks. The flooding has resulted in the loss of lives and destruction of property worth millions of kwachas.

To reverse the devastation that comes with the illegal dumping of waste, the community governance structures – ward development committee (WDCs), ward civil protection committee (WCPCs), ward sanitation committee (WSCs) and chiefs have designed a list of programs that are involving the participation of all citizens of the community. The programs will see communities clearing illegal dumping sites in the community as well as ensuring that people have curbed the habit of disposing of waste illegally.  The committees are linking the community cleanup campaigns with the national clean-up exercises that are happening every month.

During one of the cleanup exercises, the Chairperson of the sanitation committee was quoted as saying, “I hope this activity will set a precedence for the rest of the people in the community. It is also our sincere hope that the campaign will help the community prevent the outbreak of sanitation-related diseases that usually come as a result of unsafe waste management”.

The project launched officially launched the clean-up campaigns on 8 April. The sanitation committees plan to lead the community in cleaning 11 illegal dumping sites over the next three months. For this activity to achieve its goal of ridding the community of illegal dumpsites, the governance structures will need an aggressive campaign strategy to raise awareness and to involve key stakeholders such as the city council as well as the private waste collectors.

Members of Kawale Sanitation Committee leading by example in the cleanup exercise of the dumpsite behind the Health Center in Kawale

Engagements and Way Forward

We believe that the biggest problem that the people of Kawale have to overcome is the indifference that many people have towards illegal dumping due to their lack of knowledge of its effects. Our engagement with the community reveals that many households have not had any form of education on the adverse effects of not treating waste properly. For that reason, the is supporting the governance structures in conducting community cluster meetings as well as the door-to-do visits – through health surveillance assistance (HSAs), within the project target area to educate people on the health benefits of proper waste management. The project is also supporting the committees in their engagements with the City Council and other key stakeholders to develop community By-laws to inculcate a culture of properly treating waste and taking care of the environment.  Once finalized, the By-laws will be disseminated to the wide community to ensure that all residents are aware of the consequences should they be found guilty of illegal dumping. 

CCODE is also working closely with the community committees to make sure that the few city waste bins are more accessible to households and the small-scale waste entrepreneurs. We have established that one reason there is always garbage around the city bins in Kawale was that the bins are very high and most private individuals collecting waste cannot reach over them. In this case, the waste collector is not able to lift the wheelbarrow over the bin and empty the wheelbarrow into the bin. To make the bin more accessible, community leaders have suggested building an incline (ladder) over which a wheelbarrow will be driven allowing people to easily empty their waste into the bin.

Improving waste management in Kawale is possible but it calls for a coordinated approach. In this situation, CCODE is supporting the committees in engaging various stakeholders involved in the management of waste in the community. We argue that the council’s participation in managing waste in Kawale remains paramount. It is the mandate of the council to further the constitutional order based on democratic principles, accountability, transparency, and participation of the people in decision-making and development processes. While this is so, institutions like LCC do not have the requisite resources and technical capacity to fulfill their obligations. it means the council cannot do it all alone.

We believe that urban governance management involves a range of actors and institutions. The participation processes and the partnerships of these actors is a key components in transforming informal settlements and achieving sustainable practices in urban areas. But because these actors are in different sectors the council has worked on the modalities of organizing them.

We also argue that the private sector is very important in this whole process. Like elsewhere in low-income areas in the country, we evidence that the private sector involvement has been limited in Kawale. Private-sector participation in low-income communities is limited by the perceived difficulties, risks, and low returns associated with investments in such communities. However, there is evidence that points to the clear opportunities for profit and pro-poor benefits from collaborations that make full use of existing assets and capabilities. To exploit the available potential, further work needs to be done to map development opportunities, refine the financial model to deal with issues of affordability and risk assessment and mitigation, and identify partnership arrangements with interested impact investors. The private sector is important at two levels; as an efficient provider of public goods and it also ensures that markets work efficiently. To achieve this requires a combination of removing obstacles to the market through appropriate regulation and formalized partnership with companies – through PPPs, based on the council’s strategic vision

However, our engagements with the community have established that there is a big disconnect between the community and their council. In the end, we would like to support the community to create a platform where grievances are easily communicated to city authorities by institutionalizing town-hall meetings. We believe in women’s and youth’s special contribution to the co-production of collaborative interventions the development. Under this arrangement, we will seek their full involvement in the process. 

We think that success in Kawale is critical in setting up an agenda for improved waste management in informal settlements in the city of Lilongwe in the face of increased frequency and intensity of natural hazards due to climate change.


If informal settlements such as Kawale 1 are to enjoy the benefits of the decentralization reforms, then urban governance processes have to be improved.  Urban actors – council specifically, need to start making deliberate efforts to create platforms for meaningful engagements. The council has to implement the bottom-up participatory approach as outlined in the local government system (LGS) framework. In this document, we argue that community participation is important because it expands public spaces, enhances the relationship between society and government, gives greater legitimacy to democratically elected authorities, promotes respect for citizenship rights, enhances the quality of politics, and strengthens solidarity and cooperation.  A coordinated waste management approach should be seen as part of this bigger arrangement and its outcome are way beyond removing illegal dumping sites in Kawale.

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