Dubbed one of Africa's fastest growing cities, the southern capital of Juba is also suffering a negative effect of rapid development -- rising waste on its streets.
Despite signs around the city urging 'Do not litter' and 'Keep Juba clean', heaps of garbage dot streets, residential areas and public facilities like markets, hospitals and schools.
"Ninety per cent of waste materials in Juba are plastic bottles and bags that are littered without due respect to the environment," said UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) South Sudan Programme Coordinator Joseph Bartel.
Victor Tombe, director of environment at the Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Housing and Environment, said residents consumed a lot of bottled water, canned soda and packaged food. "It is a big problem but is controllable," he said of the littering.
In markets, piles of rotting farm produce have become a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects. With no one to collect it, this and other waste is washed into the Nile River during the rainy season, polluting Juba's primary source of water.
Lologo shantytown resident Isaac Bonyo blamed the rising piles of rubbish on bad habits inherited from years of civil war.
"Some people were using garbage in their vicinity as a shield to protect them from ... bullets and aerial attacks," the 35-year-old man said. He also blamed persistent littering by residents on high illiteracy rates and an inability to read signs.
"I am wondering whether people really do read the messages on the signposts," Mr. Bonyo said.
Juba Deputy County Commissioner Samuel Gasim blamed the mounting waste on the inability of county personnel to keep up with Juba's fast-rising population.
Another problem is the lack of a plastic waste-processing system, which has left residents and officials no choice but to burn rising piles of the substance.
"Burning plastic containers is hazardous to the environment because they produce a poisonous fume that is so dangerous to both human respiration and the environment," said Juma Saeed Worju, chair of the Central Equatoria State High Ministerial Committee to clean up Juba.
Meeting international standards
On 1 April, Central Equatoria Governor Clement Wani Konga issued a decree establishing Juba City Council and appointed Mohammed Al-Haj Baballa Council mayor. Governor Wani also established a high ministerial committee to oversee the cleaning of Juba.
"My priorities are cleaning all forms of garbage, organizing ... roadside sellers on all streets, removing temporary shelters along main roads and markets and getting rid of open car-washing facilities in the city," Mayor Al-Haj said.
He added that he envisioned organized markets, car-washing spots and citizens ahead of 9 July when Southern Sudan becomes formally independent.
Mr. Gasim said the county devised a system in 2010 to begin charging businesses and individual households for garbage collection. In the yet to be rolled-out plan, businesses will contribute 20 Sudanese pounds ($8) per month, restaurants and market stalls 50 ($19) and residential areas 10 ($4).
Defending these charges, Mr. Gasim said it was the collective responsibility of residents, traders and the government to keep Juba clean.
In 2008, county authorities hired a private company to clean up the town with little success. Nevertheless, officials are optimistic that this time they will achieve their goal with contracted companies.
Mr. Worju said his committee would monitor the performance of the companies closely. "We want to seriously supervise these companies and monitor their performances so that such companies are held responsible when rubbish piles up at their designated locations."
UNEP is implementing a three-year (2011 – 2013) Solid Waste Management Project in Juba. The project's goal is to clean up the city and set up a basic viable and sustainable waste management system, Mr. Bartel said.
In addition to developing the capacities of state organs and involving the private sector in waste management, the project will also use education to raise awareness on waste prevention and management.
"The population just litters because of ignorance," said Mr. Bartel. "Concerted efforts are required to raise awareness in the public through radios, TVs and the print media regarding dangers of littering the environment."
Mr. Worju said it was also time to involve teachers in schools and youth in churches to enlighten the population about the dangers of poor waste management.
To draw are residents into the cleaning effort and also prepare for independence celebrations on 9 July, the City Council in coordination with UNMIS, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations held a day-long cleaning exercise in the city on 7 May.
The programme drew over 200 participants from the UN family alone, including members of the military and police as well as civilians. UNMIS lent four trucks and a front loader to the mayor's office to help transport garbage to assembly points before its disposal.
"We hope that this is not a one-off practice," said Principal Civil Affairs Officer and the Acting UN Regional Coordinator for South SudanSylvia Fletcher. "I believe this will become a practice for all citizens and foreigners in Juba."
To help ensure that the city remains cleaner, the high ministerial committee is drafting waste management legislation, which will be submitted to the State Council of Ministers and then forwarded for approval and enactment by the State Legislative Assembly.
"These laws will govern and penalize anyone who fails to conform to those laws pertaining to rubbish collection, management and disposal," Mr. Worju said.