Africa, Environment, Headlines

ENVIRONMENT: Unemployed Youths Pick Up Garbage in Togo’s Capital

Noel Kokou Tadegnon

LOME, Feb 17 2003 (IPS) - Each day, an army of unemployed youth combs the streets of Lome to pick up the garbage littering Togo’s capital.

”We’re trying to clean up the environment and make a living at the same time,” says Ben Akakpo, one of the garbage collectors. Akakpo and his colleagues say they are cleaning up the city from the 800 metric tonnes of household trash, dumped by Lome’s 900,000 inhabitants into the street each day. Lome’s mayor has failed to collect the garbage. The private company, which retains the contract for garbage hauling has folded, due to lack of money. ”Lome, which used to be known as ‘Lome la Belle’ is now known as ‘Lome la Poubelle’ (Lome the garbage can),” quips Akakpo, who combs the capital, along with his colleagues, daily for the trash. With only the most rudimentary of equipment, such as carts, shovels, machetes, and wheelbarrows, these young people, employed by various organisations, clean up the city. In spite of their limited resources, the garbage collectors try to do a first-class job. ”They are really effective,” says Afi Mensah, a Lome trader, who is impressed by their work. Thibault Adjibodin, a journalist, says the rubbish cleaners ”are such decent folks that you can see that they’re not particularly well off”.

”I keep wondering how much they’re paid,” he says. The youths appear to have no complaints about their salaries. ”I live well right now on what I’m earning,” says Akakpo. Another colleague, Kodjo Zonvide, also says he makes ends meet, and that he has no complaint. Salaries vary according to employer. The Clean Africa Service, for example, pays between 13,000 CFA (around 21.6 U.S. dollars) and 20,000 CFA (about 33.3 U.S. dollars) a month. And the Youth Association for Maintaining and Protecting the Environment offers between 15,000 CFA (around 25 U.S. dollars) and 25,000 CFA (about 41.6 US dollars) a month. ”In addition to paying their salaries, we’ve also rented them rooms,” says Kodgo Agboka, a Clean Africa Service official. ”We have plenty of problems to overcome,” says Kodgo Agboka. ”We don’t have enough carts. I’ve had the same one for the past two years. In addition, lots of households which have signed up fail to pay.” The youth go from house to house to collect the garbage. After a household has signed up, they pay a monthly fee of between 500 CFA (83 cents) and 1,000 CFA (about 1.6 U.S. dollars) to the firm. ”We go to each house twice a week,” says Mawuto Gnawui, who works with Neighbourhood Activist Youth, an organisation involved in garbage collection. The groups often have problems meeting all the needs of their employees, especially their hygiene needs. ”The collectors are supposed to be equipped with uniforms, shoes, caps, gloves, and facemasks, and have all the necessary vaccines, but we’re not able to provide all these items because we don’t have the money,” explains Kodgo Agboka. ”In Lome right now, there are more than a hundred groups going door-to-door,” explains Belamissa Atikpo of the Youth Association for Maintaining and Protecting the Environment. But he regrets that some Lome residents have failed to accord the collectors the respect they deserve. ”These are not a bunch of beggars going door-to-door,” Atikpo says. ”On our team, we have five people with master degrees, three in economy and two in business administration; I have studied physics and chemistry and there are others with fairly high educational levels.” Togo is a poor West African country, half of whose population of about five million live below the poverty line.

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