Change Agent blog: The battle against waste in Cameroon

Date: 03 April 2024

Selective sorting can preserve public health and the environment

By John Florentin Bogne, Change Agent, YMCA Cameroon

Cameroon, the proud sentinel of Africa, is today in the grip of a wrenching climate emergency in which the burning issue of domestic waste management is taking centre stage. 

The vertiginous escalation of open-air dumps and the glaring absence of selective sorting cast a threatening shadow over public health and the fragile balance of our ecosystem. This gloomy reality is turning into a picture of exacerbated suffering, with respiratory, digestive and infectious diseases wreaking havoc among the poorest sections of the population, exacerbating inequalities. However, even more alarmingly, the pollution generated by this accumulation of waste compromises the balance of our biosphere, fanning the all-consuming flames of climate change and plunging our destiny into an abyss of uncertainty.

The impact on health and ecosystems

This multi-faceted challenge is not simply a question of urban cleanliness but an epic battle for the survival of our planet. The chaotic pile-up of unsorted rubbish in city thoroughfares and illegal dumps acts as a magnet for pathogens, poisons the air we breathe and the water we drink, and threatens the incredible diversity of life that carpets our earth. This unhealthy situation inflicts unspeakable abuse on the most vulnerable, spawning a silent epidemic of respiratory, gastrointestinal and infectious diseases. 

But the consequences don’t stop there. The putrid decomposition of organic waste releases methane into our atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 25 times more destructive than carbon dioxide, exponentially fueling the devastating inferno of climate change.

The grim figures only confirm the extent of the damage. Cameroon has one of the highest mortality rates on the African continent, with 17,000 lives lost in 2020 to the ravages of air pollution (source: National Institute of Statistics). Diarrhoeal diseases are causing death among young children, with more than 2,000 deaths in 2019 alone (source: UNICEF).  Meanwhile, malaria continues to claim thousands of lives every year, a slaughter directly linked to our inability to manage our waste responsibly (source: Ministry of Public Health of Cameroon). 

The consequences are inescapable, etched into the very fabric of our existence:

  • The air we breathe and the water we drink are poisoned by pollution.
  • Our unique biodiversity is threatened with extinction, taking with it irreplaceable treasures.
  • The quality of life of our fellow citizens is being eroded by a tide of toxic waste

The call to action

Nevertheless, to make these noble aspirations a reality, we need to act decisively and collectively to:

  • Inform and educate our fellow citizens about the dangers of uncontrolled incineration and the advantages of selective sorting
  • Set up collection and recycling infrastructures that are accessible to all
  • Support innovation in waste management
  • Strengthen controls and sanctions against irresponsible polluters
  • Engage Cameroon on the international stage in the fight against climate change.

Together, we can transform this crisis into an opportunity where individual responsibility is transformed into collective action and where every gesture counts in the fight for a greener and fairer future.

In this spirit, YMCA Cameroon’s ‘Clean Sustainable Environment’ project, via its Douala B branch, offers a glimmer of hope in the darkness, educating, raising awareness and mobilising citizens for the noble cause of the selective sorting of waste according to its type, therefore facilitating recycling. This project encourages a circular approach – raising household awareness of the benefits of waste sorting, both economically and health-wise.

In conclusion, selective sorting is not just one option among many but also an imperative necessity for our beloved Cameroon. It is a battle that we must wage together, with determination and resolve, to preserve our health, our environment and our shared future. 

By adopting selective sorting, we are paving the way for a healthier, more sustainable future for our beautiful nation and for generations to come.


A garbage dump in Cameroon.
These images show a dump in Cameroon not far from households and borehole water consumed by households.