Garbage has been piling up on the streets of Malé after the state-owned Waste Management Corporation took over collection services in the congested capital city.
Less than half of the approximately 27,000 households in Malé were registered for the WAMCO service when expatriate workers stopped collecting garbage as a ban on carrying garbage bags on bicycles came into force on August 1.
Briefing the press Thursday morning amid growing public concern over the creeping garbage crisis, Environment Minister Thoriq Ibrahim said only 7,000 households had applied by the end of July despite a registration drive, public awareness campaigns, and a two-month extension.
“This is a new effort in Maldivian history to systematically collect garbage from homes, so this is a huge and challenging undertaking,” he said.
A total of 12,267 households have registered as of Wednesday with 1,500 to 2,000 applications a day this week, Thoriq said, but the newly-registered households will have to wait five days for the company to process applications.
Mohamed Shifau, WAMCO’s managing director, said the company’s hotline has been swamped as staff are only able to take 500 calls a day and about 250 calls are abandoned after being placed on hold.
Thoriq said WAMCO’s call centre will be expanded from eight to 60 phone lines on Friday.
Complaints and criticism over WAMCO’s preparedness have also been mounting on social media.
Mohamed Shifan, a resident of the Henveiru ward in Malé, told the Maldives Independent that he has been trying to get waste collected from three apartments in his building for the past three days.
“We registered 15 days ago. They called a week back and asked for details. Waste has been piling up from three apartments in this house for the last two days. I have been trying to get a hold of them,” he said.
Aminath Yusra, who lives in Galolhu with her children, was also awaiting WAMCO collectors.
“I’ve been trying to contact WAMCO since [Tuesday] evening but haven’t been able to because the number is constantly busy. I have a toddler and a three-month-old baby so disposing of nappies and other garbage is quite important living in such small spaces,” she said.
Maryam Naahidha, a resident of Henveiru, said: “Health and safety is a concern when garbage is not collected for days. The smell is unbearable and most apartments in Malé are so small.”
Thoriq acknowledged that the collection service has yet to commence in some households despite registration, assuring that WAMCO is working to resolve “teething problems”.
Shifau, the managing director, said the company has been unable to reach some households due to inaccurate contact numbers on the application forms.
According to Shifau, a team of 100 employees are collecting garbage with Malé divided into 10 zones. The company is presently hiring more staff, he noted.
Individuals can meanwhile register with WAMCO if they prefer to take out the trash on their own. But migrant workers will be restricted under immigration rules.
WAMCO will issue cards to enter the waste yard in Malé’s new industrial village free of charge once a day. An MVR30 (US$2) gate fee will be charged for additional trips.
According to WAMCO, locals and expatriates who dispose of waste in violation of the rules will be advised in lieu of imposing the MVR750 (US$49) fine.
A survey conducted in April last year found that a majority of household waste in Malé is collected in their spare time by hundreds of expatriate workers, each of whom serves an average of ten households every day.
The per capita waste generation in Malé is estimated to be 1.7kg per day with an annual increase of four percent. Waste collected from Malé is transported to the nearby landfill island of Thilafushi, where it is stockpiled and usually incinerated.
According to the environment ministry, some 255,826 metric tonnes of solid waste was generated in Malé in 2014, a 155 percent increase over the preceding decade.
In contrast, the total municipal waste generated in the rest of the country was 67,096 metric tonnes in 2015.
The authorities have long struggled to keep the streets of Malé free of litter and dumped garbage bags. In early 2014, the city council set up public dustbins and employed 260 people to clean up the densely-packed island, but the collection and dumping of household waste remained a longstanding challenge.
In 2011, the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party government signed a contract with India-based Tatva Global Renewable Energy to provide waste management services in the Malé region, including establishing a system to generate power from recycling waste.
WAMCO charges a fee of MVR150 (US$10) per month for collection from apartments and MVR100 (US$6) for collection from bins kept outside buildings.