By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London
Environment issues in our national political discourse and activism is taking a root in our political landscape. Environmentalism or environmental rights movements from Kartong, Gunjur, Bijilo and Bakoteh comes with our new widen the space of democratic participation and governance. From Kartong Sand mining protest, Gunjur and Kartong/ Chinese Golden Leaf Factory protest about illegal discharge of untreated sewage waste in aquifer, Safe Monkey Park protest and recent demonstration by Bakoteh and Manjai residents demanding the closure of decades old open space/landfill solid waste dumping site are all clear indication that advocacy or work toward protecting the natural environment from destruction or pollution cannot be neglected in our national political issues.
Gambian politics is now open to a new era of environmental activism but unfortunately with two years of democratic advocacy on different sphere that Yaya Jammeh’s authoritarian quasi democratic regime had inflicted on livelihood diversification, it shameful that there is no single Political party with a clear policy statement or political manifesto commitment on issues of environmental governance. Life for is daily living on the edge with environmental problems and challenges such land degradation, erosion of our marine and fisheries resources, urban air pollution, poverty, poor housing and sanitation, population growth, chronic energy and water shortage etc.
Gambia is a natural resource dependent economy and our environmental resources are a major contributor to national accounting indicators such as Gross Domestic Products. Recently many natural resource dependent economies are moving away neoliberal Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis of economic growth at the expense of environmental quality by putting in place strong regulatory framework. Environmental protection improves quality of life and social wellbeing of the people. For many years environmental issues such as the way and manner we harvest our natural resource never take a centre in our national political discourse but with emerging wave of ecological activism, green political issues and movement is a future in our budding functional and participatory democratic process. The aim of the article discuss the local environmental challenges of growing urbanisation and the reason behind ineffective local government response municipal waste management system.
Municipal waste dumping is big environmental challenge for Gambia’s Local Government authorities such as Banjul City Council, Kanifing Municipal Council and Brikama Area Council. For many years not much work is done by our Central Government and National Environment Agency to implement Local Agenda 21 which aimed at building local government capacities in effective response to local environment and development challenges. Gambia National Environment Agency need to reform its approaches and work effectively to help our urban Local Government Authorities to developed, coordinate and implemented environmental management systems such integrated waste management strategies to address urbanisation and its environmental problems.
During the political transition from Military to Civilian rule in1996 to early 2000, The Government of the Gambia through UNDP and European Union Technical Assistance came with Decentralisation project that aims to strengthen local democracy with a local government reform agenda, but unfortunately totalitarian regime of Yaya Jammeh and its lukewarm approach was unwilling to widen the space for local democracy through Local Government Reform agenda.
Gambia up till today is centralise state and so-called Local Government Reforms was watered down leaving Local Government Administration ineffective and still with operating in its old fashion unaccountable revenue collection system and not much of that revenue collected plough back to the communities for development purposes. Today these are part of the reasons why Bakoteh Solid Waste landfill dumping is in a state of disgrace and the municipal authorities cannot be their social responsibility and social contract to tax payers. For the past decades, we constitutionally empowered the President and gave him the absolute power to dictate the work of every local government authorities which is a mockery spirit of decentralisation and local democracy. Our elected Councillors have no power and local government administration becomes littered with corruption, inefficiency and no accountability.
Gambia Local Government Administration needs to be empowered to come with some form of collaborative Municipal waste Management Framework Directive. It is about time that start to realise that urbanisation comes with waste generation due to pattern of consumption and production of resources. With demand for spatial land use and growing population, we need to move away from open space waste dumping especially in densely populated municipalities in Greater Banjul Areas. Human/urban habitation comes with waste production and waste is any discarded material and substance.
For years I have been writing about the impact of Bakoteh Open space/ landfill site solid waste. Open space landfill site dumping of solid waste comes with health and environmental hazards. With increase in our urban population the volumes of municipal solid waste being produced are increasing and it is time to realise that volume that waste is open space landfill site is source of groundwater pollutant in foreseeable future. The Semi Arid nature of climate, rainfall causes erosion and that could increase the possibility of surface and ground water contamination from landfill solid waste disposal site such as that of Bakoteh site. Another environmental problem related to Bakoteh dumping site landfill gas emission and this is noticeable when you few distance away from these waste dumping landfill site.
The volume of organic waste disposed into the site during decomposition forms gaseous products. When the bacterial decomposition process of these organic waste slowly moves to use of oxygen known in biological term as aerobic condition to non use of oxygen knows as anaerobic condition, the carbon dioxide level continues to be high, gradually falling as methane concentration builds up. Other than methane and carbon dioxide other gases being generated during decomposition in landfill waste dumping site include hydrogen, nitrogen which has potential fire and explosive hazards. Landfill gas emissions have a number of pollutants which are of concern to human health and environment. Solid waste disposed in landfills is usually subjected to series of complex biochemical and physical processes, which lead to the production of both leachate and gaseous emissions. When leachate leaves landfill and reaches water resources, it may cause surface and groundwater pollution.
Because of Methane associated with Landfill gases emission, Bakoteh Land fill site and other landfill sites in the country are significant contributor to our national green house gas inventory because of amount of methane it generated into the atmosphere as a green house gases. Apart from emission of methane, waste dumping can contaminate the soil and also groundwater table/aquifer with pollutants. Land remediation work even when Bakoteh landfill is closed after years of been used for waste dumping can be expensive and even when the groundwork is done it could have a potential effect if used for human settlement. Recent studies in Lazio region in Italy published in the Journal of Environmental Ecotoxicology indicated that living near 5 km of a landfill waste dumping site could damage your health. The research of this study associated health implication such as exposure to air pollutants can lead to lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
The Gambia Government should find solution to the problem of urban municipal waste generated in Banjul City Council, Kanifing Municipal Council and Brikama Area Council. The Environment Agency should support local government agencies to come with waste management strategies and framework that can reduce the volume of waste sent to landfill site. Gambia need small effective sizable incineration plant to recovery energy generated from our municipal household waste that end up in landfill sites. The volume of waste we sent to landfill site could be recycle, recovered before finally disposal as solid waste.
Our citizens need waste management education and recycling programme and project to reduce the bulk of waste into dumping sites. It is only through effective waste management strategies with introduce cost benefit analysis which in environmental economists called polluter pay principles that Local Government Authorities can reduce the waste hierarchy into landfill sites. In many part of developed and developing countries now incineration of municipal waste is another form of alternatives to open space dumping. Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion or burning of organic substance in waste to produces energy that is supplied into national grid as electricity. With the volume of municipal household waste produced in our urban areas this cam be part of the solution to open space landfill site dumping.
Gambia’s local government authorities with not be able to responsive to need of our citizens without proper accountable democratic reforms. For five decades local government administration is reduced to unaccountable tax/revenue collection and neglected community development challenges that comes with urbanisation. With level of administrative corruption the executive officers are not even answerable or accountable to democratic elected councillors. In our national pathway to widen the space of democratic governance it is fundamental important for Gambia reformed in local government administration if we are to meet environmental and community development challenges that comes with urbanisation.