Pollution encompassing air, water and waste generation are major environmental problems in Cameroon. Most of the population of Cameroon is exposed to PM2.5 concentrations well above the WHO Air Quality Guideline for healthy air (5µg/m3). Air pollution exposures, including exposure to outdoor particulate matter (PM2.5) and household air pollution (HAP), have been linked to increased hospitalizations, disability, and early death from respiratory diseases, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and diabetes, as well as communicable diseases like pneumonia. According to the State of Global Air 2019, air pollution is the 5th leading risk factor for premature death in Cameroon, accounting for nearly 7% of deaths — more than 13,000 — in 2017 alone .
Water pollution is another challenge for Cameroon  as towns and cities lack adequate waste management mechanisms. As a result, there is indiscriminate discharge of industrial effluent, domestic/household waste, hospital waste, laboratory waste and sewage into surface water bodies. Waste material that is dumped in freshwater systems pollutes streams and rivers. Anthropogenic pollution of surface and groundwater freshwater resources has been reported in Douala, Yaounde, Maroua and Ndop . Polluted water in Cameroon is associated with the spread of water-borne diseases . In Bangolan, Northwest Cameroon, bacteriological analyses of domestic water found faecal coliforms and other specific bacteria, suggesting recent contamination of the sources by human or animal faeces. Prevalence of water-borne diseases in the locality was and remains a major public health concern. Health data in the locality revealed 1389 cases of water-borne diseases, namely, typhoid, diarrhoea, and dysentery between 2016 and 2017 . Further, Cameroon has been experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in decades, exacerbated by shortages of safe drinking water and contamination of rivers . Between 29 October 2021 and 30 April 2022, a total of 6652 suspected cases including 134 deaths (case fatality ratio 2%) were reported .
Accumulating plastic litter is becoming a ubiquitous phenomenon in Sub-Saharan African countries, including Cameroon. The country’s waste management systems are inefficient as evidenced by heaps of uncollected waste on street sides or ubiquitous illegal dumps, which pose a serious threat to the environment, as well as to public health. According to the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, the country generates 6 million tonnes of waste per year (in 2022), of which plastic waste amounts to about 600,000 tonnes— roughly amounting to 10% of the total waste, the highest in central Africa. Of which, the country roughly mismanages 578,798 tonnes of plastic waste per year, with the per capita mismanaged plastic waste amounting to about 22.37 kg per person. This waste is mostly littered, inadequately disposed, or even burned. This is predominantly because the plastic waste recycling industry of Cameroon — consisting of about 10 companies — remains weak, with less than 20% of plastic waste being recycled every year. About 10,671 tonnes of plastic waste from Cameroon makes its way into the ocean every year .
Poor disposal of waste in drainage channels is a major cause of flooding in Douala and most western parts of Cameroon . Due to the poor condition of drainage infrastructure and its low elevation, Douala is particularly vulnerable to flooding. This is exacerbated by the lack of an effective waste management system, which has resulted in residents dumping their garbage into drains, effectively slowing water flow, and eliminating drain functionality in many cases. According to the Sanitation Master Plan for the City of Douala (2021), 41.2% of households dispose of their waste through unregulated means i.e., dumping it in pits, on undeveloped land, in waterways and drains, and in vacant lots used as improvised dumps. Burning is another common means of waste disposal that contributes to poor air quality and respiratory diseases. This poor waste management has resulted in severe water, soil, and air pollution .
Air pollution in Cameroon is largely caused by the burning of wood and other biomass for cooking, as well as the open burning of waste, and industry and vehicle emissions . Cameroon’s vehicle fleet is characterised by old vehicles, which worsens the air quality situation especially in urban areas .
Rapid industrialization and urbanization in Cameroon are contributing to water pollution. Industries are often unwilling to treat their liquid or gaseous effluents before they are released into the natural environment . Inadequate waste management systems, including wastewater collection and treatment systems, has resulted in the indiscriminate discharge of industrial effluent, domestic/household waste, hospital waste, laboratory waste and sewage into the country’s water bodies , . Additionally, toxic chemicals and nutrient pollution are discharged into water bodies by large scale agricultural investments . Untreated ballast water from ships also stands as major source of water pollution in Cameroon . Further, civil society groups have recently raised the alarm over pollution of rivers in eastern and northern Cameroon by gold mining companies, which are discharging toxic mercury and cyanide into the rivers, putting downstream communities and wildlife at risk .
In Cameroon, as in many other Sub-Saharan African countries, massive population growth and urbanisation are driving an exponential increase in the production of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) , including plastic waste.
Key policies and governance approach
The Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon asserts in its Preamble that, “every person shall have a right to a healthy environment. The protection of the environment shall be the duty of every citizen. The State shall ensure the protection and improvement of the environment” .
The 1996 Framework Law on the Environmental Management lays down the general legal framework for environmental management in Cameroon. The law and regulations seek to guarantee the right of everyone to a sound environment and ensure a harmonious balance within ecosystems and between the urban and rural zones (Article 5) . It establishes the fundamental principles regulating environmental pollution , prohibiting pollution of any kind, to the extent that it does not adversely affect the environment. Further, the law obliges the state to establish quality norms for air, water and soil, as well as any other norms that could be necessary to safeguard human health and the environment . It also defines the principles of precaution, preventive and corrective action, polluter pays, liability, participation and subsidiarity, as key principles that underpin environmental and natural resources management in Cameroon .
Concerning air pollution, Section 1, Chapter III of Law No. 96/12 of August 5, 1996, on the Framework Law on the Environmental Management, deals entirely with atmospheric pollution . Additionally, Decree No. 2011/2582/PM of 23 August 2011 to lay down conditions for the protection of the atmosphere, establishes the modalities of how Cameroon protects the atmosphere for a list of air pollutants including carbon dioxide, methane, and CFCs. It also establishes that the air quality measurement and control stations designed to ensure compliance with the requirements set out in Article 21 of the Framework Law on the Environmental Management are located in sites where pollution is presumed to exceed the limit values .
The main legal instrument governing water resources in Cameroon is the Water Law, Law No.98/005 of 14 April 1998 , which regulates all aspects related to water management and its relation to public health . The fight against pollution is reflected, among other things, in regulations, water quality guidelines, water quality monitoring, economic tools (e.g., taxes and charges), water quality credit trading programs, education initiatives, consideration of point and non-point sources of pollution (e.g., agriculture), construction and operation of wastewater treatment plants and watershed management. Implementing Decrees relevant to pollution control include Decree No. 2001/165/PM of 18 May 2001 specifying the procedures for protecting surface water and groundwater against pollution; and Decree No. 2001/163/PM of May 08, 2001, regulating the protection perimeters around points of collection, treatment and storage of drinkable water .
The Government of Cameroon has formulated a plethora of laws to control the management of waste in the country , such as Decree No. 2012/2809/PM of 26 September 2012 to lay down conditions for sorting, collecting, transporting, retrieving, recycling, treating and final disposing of waste, and Order No. 001/MINEPDED of 15 October 2012 to lay down requirements for obtaining an environmental permit concerning waste management . Additionally, Joint Ministerial Order No.0041/ MINEPDED/ MINCOMMERCE of 24 October 2012, relating to the manufacture, import and commercialisation of nonbiodegradable packages, takes into consideration Section 58 of the Environmental Law of 1996. It prohibits the manufacture, import, possession and free sale or distribution of non-biodegradable plastic packaging of less than 60 microns. The production, import, holding and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic packaging of more than 60 microns and the granules used in their manufacture are subject to the obtaining of an environmental permit. The order also forbids the burning, burial and littering of plastics in the open .
Successes and remaining challenges
Cameroon has several laws and policies that seek to address pollution, but faces challenges related to their implementation and enforcement . Such challenges encountered by the Government include insufficient funds, insufficient or inadequate structures or infrastructures, corruption, lack of political will and a lack of public awareness .
Additionally, the incompleteness of laws also adds to the failure to effectively implement the country’s obligation to protect and fulfil the right of citizens to a healthy environment. This can be seen in the failure of the state to put into place, a law to implement the provision of Article 7 of Law N. 1996/12. As such, several years since the law came into force, there is still no law which sets out the procedure for the access to environmental information. Without the requisite conditions and procedures of access, the right to access to information, including environmental information, is only illusory and elusive, to the extent that it hinders the possibility of properly enhancing environmental protection in Cameroon . Cameroon’s first legal document specifically devoted to air, Decree 2011/2582/PM of 23 August 2011 to lay down rules for the protection of the atmosphere, is also yet to enter into force since there is no application decree .
In recent years, Cameroon has managed large volumes of different types of waste in an environmentally friendly manner, with a view to reducing the marine pollution that partly emanates from land-based activities. In 2020, 1,854,535 tonnes of solid waste were thus treated compared to 1,0970,000 litres of liquid waste and 57 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Further, 21.8 tons of non-compliant plastic packaging (nonbiodegradable with a thickness of less than 61 microns) were seized that same year .
Despite this progress, there are still several barriers, including policy barriers, to the sustainable management of waste in Cameroon . For instance, there are many reasons behind the ineffectiveness of plastic policies. Some of these reasons are regulatory challenges, as well as the lack of financial resources, an alternative market and fines or punishment for defaulters. The absence of stakeholder involvement, lack of public awareness, inadequate enforcement, poor waste disposal infrastructure and governance, and the lack of personnel to undertake field visits are also contributing factors. Furthermore, the absence of regulatory plastic policies in countries bordering Cameroon, coupled with the porous nature of its borders, has opened routes for the smuggling of plastics into the country, which hinders government interventions to manage plastic waste. In 2014 and 2015, over 200 people were arrested for smuggling plastic into the country. The operations, which led to the impounding of 60 tonnes of contraband worth over US $483,000, were carried out by the environment ministry, customs officials, and the Ministry of Trade in the Southwest Region .
Goals and Ambitions
The government of Cameroon has set out a national planning process to transition to LPG as a predominant cooking fuel, with a goal to move from 12% national usage to 58% by 2030. This will result in a highly significant reduction of PM2.5 - black carbon - and other short-lived climate pollutants, reduce deforestation, and protect the health of lower income households .
- Legal compliance and implementation of existing documents or texts remains problematic for efficient and effective environmental management in Cameroon. There is a need for environmental law reforms that effectively combine theory and practice in the management and implementation of environmental policies .
- Enforce existing laws and directives on pollution by building the capacity of government officials .
- The mapping of sources of financing currently mobilized and mobilizable reveals that there is a real potential for mobilizing internal resources to fill the development financing gap in Cameroon, particularly in the environmental sectors (more than 90%), and the health, agriculture, water, energy for all, and social protection sectors (more than 75%) .
- Implement environmental preservation projects with the support of technical and financial partners .
- Invest in basic sanitation, solid waste management, and drainage infrastructure.
- Communicative instruments such as awareness raising campaigns and educational programmes on pollution should be given priority .
- There is need for the state to enable and facilitate public access to relevant environmental information through clear conditions and procedures of access .
- Set up a mechanism for the systematic control of pollution and discharges into surface and groundwater .
- Efforts must also be made to improve the waste information base in order to facilitate integrated waste management systems .
- Establish a law on solid waste management .
- Capacity building programmes could help to enhance local knowledge and capacity to manage waste more effectively .
- Broaden the tax base for waste management by introducing an “eco-tax” on certain products based on the principle of extended producer responsibility .
- For the regulation on plastics to be effective, economic and market-based instruments such as tax to be paid by producers, or fee paid by consumers must be adopted .
- Develop a dedicated policy for plastic waste management .
- Support the promotion of circular economy initiatives and support job creation in the waste recycling sector .
- Integration of the informal sector not only creates livelihood opportunities, but also substantially reduces the cost of waste management operations .
- Focus on minimising plastic production, especially in sectors like packaging .
- Strengthen collection of source-separated waste with the help of the private sector, community-based organisations, and local governments .
- Regulate illegal importation and trade of plastic waste .
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