Mozambique: Collapse of Rubbish Tip Kills 17

Photo: Emildo Sambo/Verdade

At least 17 people were killed and five injured as a result of the collapse of a mountain of waste accumulated for decades in the northern part of the Hulene dump – the largest in the Mozambican capital – at dawn on Monday.

Maputo — Maputo’s main rubbish tip collapsed in the small hours of Monday morning, burying seven houses and killing at least 17 people.

The rubbish tip, located in Hulene neighbourhood, about ten kilometres from the centre of the city, started out as just a hole in the ground but has, over the years, become a rubbish mountain. On Sunday night, torrential rain fell on Maputo, and this was the immediate cause of the disaster.

At about 03.00 hundreds of tonnes of the sodden rubbish became a dark and foetid avalanche, overwhelming the houses built under the shadow of the garbage dump.

Teams from the fire brigade (SENSAP) were working to rescue survivors and retrieve bodies as from 04.30. SENSAP spokesperson Leonildo Pelemba told supporters there were three survivors who were taken to hospital for treatment.

By early afternoon the search for more survivors and further corpses was continuing despite the light rain that continued to fall. Bulldozers removed mounds of rubbish from the wreckage of the ruined houses.

The immediate question raised is: why were people still living in such an obviously dangerous place?

Maputo City Council officials told reporters that attempts have been amde to persuade people to leave Hulene, and relocate to Chiango. This is a sparsely populated area on the northern outskirts of the city. Some people did move to Chiango – but some of them found it inconveniently far from the centre of the city, and returned to Hulene.

The City Council declined to use force to move them, and instead took the line of least resistance, allowing people to go on living on the urban equivalent of the rim of an active volcano.

The Hulene rubbish tip should have been closed by now. Discussions about closing the tip have been going on for many years, and municipal officers told reporters that work to close the dump definitively is in hand.

In his campaign for re-election in 2013, the Mayor of Maputo, David Simango, promised to close the Hulene dump – but over the subsequent four years it has continued to receive about 1,600 tonnes of rubbish a day. Despite the campaign promises, and plans to open a modern landfill at Matlemele, in the neighbouring city of Matola, Hulene is still in use.

The dump poses multiple health risks, including respiratory problems and diarrhoea. On the tip rubbish is burnt in an uncontrolled way, producing dangerous gases, which could have a carcinogenic effect when inhaled.

The dump is often wreathed in smoke from the fires, and emits a nauseating smell. On normal days, men, women and children can be seen sifting through the garbage, looking for anything useful that they might be able to sell. The dump is also a hiding place for criminals, which adds to its dangers, particularly at night.

People living in nearby houses that were not overwhelmed are now abandoning their homes, fearful that there could be a further collapse.

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