Mr. Morro Krubally, University of The Gambia (UTG)

Gambia’s new municipal leadership in Banjul City Council,  Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) and Brikama Area Council (BAC), and perhaps the other regional councils across the country, made remarkable strides in the last two years since the beginning of the new dispensation in our country in environmental initiatives that keep our localities environmentally protected duelings. KMC for example has invested in garbage collection trucks for more efficient and dependable domestic and commercial garbage collection and management. While we appreciate these initiatives, a silent pollution menace has been a burgeoning threat to our cities and towns in the Gambia.

In recent years the famous CAFFEE TOUBA, Senegambia’s version of cappuccino or latte if you will, has been the source of the strewn white plastics cups around us in Banjul, Serre Kunda and all over where the vendors of Caffee Touba forage for sales. The greatest consumers of this caffeine source are mostly found around taxi car parks; areas where taxes queue in waiting for taxi services be it the famous “gelegle” or regular yellow taxis park. Generally however, the caffee has grown in popularity around town as it growingly appeal to the average salesman around town and your average joe on their daily labour or errand around town. The next time you are at the garage to catch a taxi or a bus to Basse, Brikama or Serre Kunda, just look around, and under your feet,  you are most likely to step on the strewn little white cups.

In July 2015, The Gambia government through the National Assembly legislated an environmental law that prohibited the import or use of plastic bags in the Gambia. This was one of the best laws the Gambia National Assembly ever enacted as an environmental awareness and protection initiative in our country, following a surge in the indiscriminate use of plastic bags in The Gambia posing a serious threat to the fragile ecosystem of the country. The plastic ban has now been recognized as one of the best laws in African countries contributing to environmental sustainability as the United Nation’s 12th Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 12th SDG stipulates; “Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources.” I am however, inclined to say that the gains produced by the effort to reduce our ecological footprint through the protection of our environment in The Gambia, is now severely threatened for reversal of gains; these small plastic cups specifically used by the Caffee Touba nomadic vendors, represent a formidable threat as an agent of doom in polluting our cities.

The proliferation of Caffee Touba small businesses may very well be a double edged sword as we encourage entrepreneurship (a source of employment and alleviation of poverty) but suffer from environmental pollution because of the alarming amount of these plastic cups released into our ecosystem. The vendors and buyer bear equal responsibility in the release of these cups because they are the consumers of the product; one sells and the other buys respectively. As we struggle with environmental challenges, and change of attitude towards domestic and personal trash management, many a drinker of the caffeine source, thinks nothing of disposing the cups by simply throwing them indiscriminately. On finishing the content of the cups, the drinker disposes the empty cup by simply throwing it away without regard to the final resting place. As these cups are petroleum-based, and therefore non-biodegradable, the cups are now a source of clogging of city drainage systems, and sewage systems. Heretofore, the problem of clogging of our drainage systems was caused by plastic bags, sanitary pads and other items of petroleum-based discharged into our environment. Both the BCC and KMC must be credited for positioning trash cans and bins in strategic areas to encourage the population to use these bins for trash and desist from the habit of littering. These efforts notwithstanding, littering remains one of the main source of environmental degradation leaving much to be desired in our cities. We have much work to do in this area in pursuit of a litter-free country. Thus, these little white cups in their numbers are indeed a course for concern as they represent a key agent of pollution.

In passing, I must also draw our attention to another environmental calamity posing a significant environmental challenge in our residential areas. While providing access to auto repair garages in our neighbourhoods, we must balance this access with sound municipal ordinance that prohibits parking old beat-up clunkers that may never be repaired, but parked on our streets gathering dust and providing an impetus for vandalism. Children are often found playing in and around these cars. Often these vehicles will never be repaired. Often the cars are parked in manners that block homeowners from driving in or out of their homes because the mechanic has parked a vehicle next to someone’s gate. The municipal ordinance should regulate street parking in our cities. Car repair garages should keep all cars meant for repairs in fenced up premises, and not park dead beat up cars on our streets indefinitely. Often trash, and a lot of dirt piles up under these cars littering our streets while causing traffic hazards. Many of these cars are meant to be sent for recycling and not left to rut on our streets and piling dirt upon dirt.  Car repair garage owners should also be sensitive to inconveniencing their neighbours/homeowners and be mindful of parking cars in front of other peoples’ homes causing havoc, and difficulty to residents. We need to change some of the ways we do business in Gambia. Municipalities need to work on ordinance that ease life in our cities and keep our streets litter free. We need to start thinking about parking enforcement on our streets in our neighbourhoods. There should also be no parking zones. We cannot just park willy-nilly. We need to start bringing these issues to the attention of our elected leaders in our city governments, and if necessary to our national assembly elected members. It cannot be business as usual any more. I hope our elected leaders will appreciate our concerns and help ameliorate our challenges.

I urge the municipalities to review the use of plastic-based products lest they find themselves as idiomatically said, ‘burying the hole while others dig it’. Environmental cleanliness requires vigilance and nipping in the bud all human actions, be it consciously, or inadvertently that threaten our environment. The question here is what can we do about this?  I suggest the following:

1) The National Environmental Agency (NEA) must take noted of this culprit. The NEA must accept that this a problem and strategize to resolve without delay lest we reverse gains from the plastic-bag embargo.

2) Place an embargo on these plastic cups (While we take away these cups we surely do not want to take the businesses out of commission) the cups should be replace with biodegradable paper cups. These paper cups are available in the world market. Importers be on notice that there is a market for these cups, and therefore help to do your part to import environmentally friendly products.

3) NEA in collaboration with BCC, and KMC need to seek the cooperation of the Caffee Touba vendors and educate them on matters of environmental protection and the impact their businesses may have on our environment. The vendors must be educated to seek alternative biodegradable cups. This exercise should be conducted across the country as these product (an import from Senegal) is now very popular in major settlements in The Gambia. The business is here to stay and therefore we must tolerate but regulate, and manage the impact it will have on our environment.

4) NEA and partners should mount a sensitization campaign to educate the population, raising awareness of the use of these products and their impact on our ecosystem. We will need an eco- shift in our attitudes for better consumer behaviour.

Lastly, NEA and partners must be serious about ordinances and enforcement. It is clearly evident in The Gambia that plastic bags are making a come back. I am inclined to ask what happened to the law banning the import and use of plastic bags?  NEA, BCC, KMC and the rest of the regional councils across the country, we call on you to revisit the use of plastic in our country and bring forth ordinances to regulate citizens behaviour in our neighbourhoods, and areas of business.

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