Urban Environmental Problems: Social and Environmental Injustice in Solid Waste Management in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Full Name: 
Dr Serge Kubanza

The purpose of this research is to investigate the concepts of social and environmental justice in the context of solid waste management in Kinshasa and the critical factors accounting for injustice in this context. The investigation followed an examination of the relevant theoretical framework(s) and mechanisms that would facilitate the attainment of social and environmental justice in the city of Kinshasa.

It is argued that social justice and environmental justice are a global challenge, and that efforts to address these challenges are usually biased towards employing eurocentric frameworks that are unfit to deal with the reality of environmental problems in a developing country scenario. The use of eurocentric urban development and planning approaches, which in most cases are outdated, have significantly propagated issues of spatial inequality in the distribution of solid waste burdens and have contributed to worsening justice concerns in many cities in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. It has been illustrated in this study that social justice and environmental justice in the context of solid waste management must be seen as intrinsically connected, as both concepts emphasise the need for empirical understandings grounded in local contexts.

Social and environmental justices play fundamental roles in the theoretical construction of principles that can contribute to a sustainable community that ensures that the rights and needs of individuals in a society are met. In the context of solid waste, the concepts of social justice and environmental justice are compelling because of their focus on ensuring equal service delivery in solid waste collection and disposal, while simultaneously redressing previous imbalances. Walker (2009) argues that the principles of environmental and social justice and sustainable development are more generally in their infancy in sub-Saharan Africa, and few implementing agencies and practitioners have a clear understanding of how to translate these global principles into practice.

It is not surprising, therefore, that unresolved issues around sustainable development and environmental justice have emerged in a period during which implementation and the real implications of following a justice pathway have overwhelmed many urban managers in sub-Saharan African cities (Patel 2009). Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods together with system thinking and system dynamics modelling principles as integral frameworks in understanding the complexity in solid waste management, it was found that solid waste management in Kinshasa, like in many Congolese cities, is a duty entrusted to publicly-funded municipal authorities. There is a clear divide and evidence in the manner by which solid waste is managed between the rich and poor neighborhoods of the city. The rich neighbourhoods seem to enjoy well-formulated systems of service delivery, in contrast with high-density areas, where almost 80% of the population in Kinshasa resides. This state of affairs is a result of inequalities that exist between the more powerful wealthy class and the disempowered poor people of the urban society in Kinshasa.