The writer
The writer

Mitigating miscreants’ behaviours in informal settlements

Despite the challenges facing informal communities, millions live there.

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These communities are characterised by dense populations, overcrowded housing, limited access to clean water and insufficient space for proper sanitation facilities.

Overcrowding in these areas exacerbates insanitary challenges as limited resources must serve a large number of residents. Similarly, limited access to clean water is a fundamental obstacle to maintaining proper sanitation.

Residents’ inability to access safe water leads to the use of contaminated water for drinking, cooking and hygiene, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. Insanitary conditions are worsening each day despite efforts to improve sanitation and make Accra the cleanest city in the region.

While acknowledging stakeholders’ efforts in proper waste management and sanitation, particularly in formal urban areas, the actions of miscreants cannot be overlooked. In other words, the activities and contributions of miscreants to the insanitary conditions within informal urban communities cannot be ignored. 

Who are miscreants?

Miscreants, also referred to as kaya-bola, are individuals or groups who engage in behaviours that undermine community well-being for personal gain. Depending on the community, miscreants are often called by local names such as ‘Junkies’, ‘Kaya-bola’, ‘Yek’ guys, ‘Yaabola’, and ‘Borla’ yazo, among others. They exploit the vulnerabilities in informal communities, perpetuating insanitary conditions and exacerbating social and environmental disorders.

Within communities, waste is handled differently by each household. While some recycle, others dispose of waste through collectors-such as Zoomlion, for a fee. Those who cannot afford Zoomlion’s fees engage the Yek, the tricycle guys, or the kaya-bola, who charge less.

Kaya-bola workers collect trash from shops and homes, usually cheaper than tricycle operators, under the pretext of proper disposal. However, they take advantage of the informal community structure and dump the trash indiscriminately. 

These wastes are eventually left in parking lots, public gathering spaces, in front of shops, behind buildings, on streets, in uncompleted buildings and gutters. The Yek operators scout the town for waste and, in Nungua and Teshie, drive to the beach road at night to dispose of it. Pretending to have a mechanical fault, they dump the waste in the middle of the road.

Effects on community sanitation

Indiscriminate waste dumping by miscreants undoubtedly impedes attempts to manage and properly dispose of garbage, contributing to environmental damage. This can result in the depletion of natural ecosystems within informal settlements, contamination of water supplies, poor environmental quality and the spread of illnesses.

Miscreants also engage in the destruction of public infrastructure including sanitation facilities such as communal toilets and other shared amenities. Additionally, they perpetuate social norms and behaviours that prioritise immediate gratification over long-term community well-being. Kaya-bola and Yek operators intimidate the vulnerable through coercion and violence to maintain control and suppress dissent within informal communities.

The actions of miscreants not only weaken community efforts to improve sanitation but also exacerbate the already challenging living conditions faced by residents in informal communities.

An atmosphere of fear and insecurity further deter residents from advocating for their rights or participating in community initiatives aimed at improving sanitation and living conditions.

The spillover effects of miscreant activities within informal communities negatively impact efforts to make Accra the cleanest city in West Africa.

Measures to prevent littering

Miscreants’ actions and behaviours can be mitigated or prevented through empowerment, ownership, collaboration and alternative opportunities.

• Empowerment can be achieved by educating people about the negative effects of pollution on their health, the environment and their general well-being. This approach increases the likelihood of collective action against pollution. Establishing community watchdogs can help police the community and prevent miscreant activities and related insanitary behaviours. 

• Fostering a sense of ownership encourages locals to actively participate in environmental activities that benefit both their immediate neighbourhood and the community as a whole. Ownership can lead to a commitment to maintaining a cleaner environment, discouraging participation in activities that contribute to pollution. Community members can also share knowledge on best sanitation practices as part of the ownership project. 

• Community collaboration such as community meetings encourages cooperation among residents, local organisations and authorities to address pollution collectively. 
By working together, communities can develop effective strategies and solutions to combat pollution and hold accountable, those who engage in harmful activities. 
Collaboration, integral to local governance, ensures a purposeful relationship that allows all parties to strategically choose and agree on a consensus to achieve a shared sanitation outcome in informal communities.

• Providing alternative opportunities for income generation that are more environmentally friendly can help mitigate or prevent reliance on activities that contribute to pollution. This can be achieved by offering training programmes or support for eco-friendly businesses. This approach can ease the work of community watchdogs and law enforcement agencies, as miscreants may become watchdogs themselves reporting others who do not conform to pollution and sanitation rules.

• Improving the structures in informal communities to align with formal urban areas can prevent poor sanitation. This requires providing adequate sanitation facilities, upgrading housing and general infrastructure and implementing drainage systems. These improvements lead to healthier living conditions, reduce the spread of diseases and contribute to the overall well-being and development of the community.

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This endeavour will make it unattractive for miscreants to operate, especially with Accra being the capital city of Ghana.

The writer is a lecturer, UPSA

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