By Lamin Comma
The rainy season accentuates the problem of waste disposal in our urban areas. No doubt we now experience a flurry of complaints and protests in KMC and Brikama over the inadequate response to the need to promptly clear our streets and market places of solid waste. To say the least, these are eyesores, not to mention the health hazards they pose. The extensive and uncontrolled expansion of our urban areas with a fast rate of population growth have resulted in heightened activities of disorganized solid waste dumping and disposal. It would appear that there is no concomitant increase in local authority capacity – financially or other resources – in dealing with this overwhelming problem.
Developing countries seem to have the knack of taking photocopies of industrialized country solutions. Solid waste disposal seems to be no exception. We tend to forget that the life style affects the type of solid waste output and capacity is a key factor to sustainability. Thus we have ideas bandied around which are highly sophisticated and are being applied in the West.
There are various methods of waste disposal ranging from the basic form of landfills, to incineration, to recovery and recycling and even composting. The most common idea that has mostly been introduced is one concerning recycling. It is an attractive environmental solution but its applicability is greatly influenced by the composition of the waste, public behavior and household disposal methods. Recycling is part of a three component hierarchy. It has great advantages of reducing the volumes going into landfills (in other words as a supplement) and reducing pollution.
However, I want to make a bold proposition in dealing with solid waste disposal, taking KMC as a specific example. The Council must be spending over D10million per annum on waste disposal – for all intents and purposes this amount is inadequate, considering the population size of KMC and a coverage from Abuko to Bakau. This fact has to be acknowledged – the Council does not have the capacity and resources to address the problem and complaining about it is as good as banging one’s head against the wall. It becomes more urgent than ever to come up with a workable solution. The challenge should be perceived nationally in order to come up with a more lasting solution. KMC has the largest population in the country. It is the main settlement area for the rural urban drift. The area has now expanded to its farthest limits – into the ‘Faros’ and swampy areas – blocking natural drainage routes along the way. The weight of our urban problem is heavily environmental which impacts on health and road infrastructure with a direct consequence as a social cost burden at the national level (hospital operations and road maintenance).
KMC has 17 wards. These wards should be subdivided into smaller units with each unit having its own waste collection point. Some may remember, in Banjul, where there was a public toilet, there was also a small concrete slab or platform area where households dumped their waste for collection. These slabs with parapet walls could be built in strategic points of collection. Each site will have medium size collection bins for ease of emptying. Next – purchase donkeys and carts and provide them with large collections bags. I tend to believe that a major part of our waste is being currently collected this way – private operators going door to door and paid daily or periodically. These carts could be given to private operators individually (in partnership) or as a community for collection of waste and dumping them at the collection sites within the wards. Tractors (motorcycles may be) with domed covers (again some will remember these in Banjul) will be purchased (GTTI could manufacture the domes to specifications).
One would have to work out the area of efficient coverage for one tractor or motor cycle to know the number to be used. These tractors will dump their collection at nowhere else but Bakoteh…hold it …I mean, for the time being. The Bakoteh site has to be prepared for this activity. There would be concrete platforms at the site, shovel(s) and large trucks to move the dumped waste to a new landfill area which may be located as far as some uninhabited place. Already a site was identified. If I may add, the Bakoteh site will have no more uncontrolled dumping and all waste dumped must be moved within the shortest possible period of time (may be 24 hours). There will be the need to provide lighting for night activity of moving out cabbage. The software aspect of this project will require a sensitization program for the communities. Their role will be to ensure an orderly disposal at their localities and proper management of household cabbage. The program could be implemented in accordance with priority areas – market and commercial, more densely populated areas and so forth.
I have not bothered to provide the costing of this proposal. The emphasis is not on the finances but where it would come from. The first suggestion is for KMC to double the budget provision from D10m to D20million for waste collection. There will be an extra specific waste disposal charge for every property unit with a greater contribution from commercial properties and business (shops, restaurants, etc. – the current charges are totally inadequate). Provision of the heavy machinery comes from the national level – tractors and trucks and the preparation of Bakoteh and the new landfill area. There could be a consideration of empowering the private operators – which may ease the burden of the Council. Sometimes in life simplicity works better than most sophisticated methods, mainly out of necessity and expediency. The other sophisticated concepts could be applied, if desirable, at the final land fill area beyond Bakoteh.
We are into the next Council elections and this is one program the Mayoral aspirants can work the details out as a plan for solid waste disposal. This proposal is a medium term solution. A longer term proposal will require the formulation of a five year Development Plan for the Council. This will be a more comprehensive approach to the problems of KMC. It will tackle the more overarching environmental challenges of flooding, poor drainage system, bad roads, health hazards, and extending the challenge to include capacity building for the communities, market development, sporting facilities for the youths – you name it. Such a plan can even incorporate youth development and enterprise to stem the flow of youths to the ‘back way’ (yes, a positive plan could be developed specifically impacting this wave of youth movement to Europe). My optimism in this approach is based on the fact that KMC is the host to all the major institutions, agencies and development partners in the country – government, NGOs, Embassies, commercial centers, etc. The approach will be participatory involving the cross section of the society (including the agencies, institutions and development partners located here).
With adequate and extensive participation, ownership of the plan will be a great motivating factor to seek funding and to implement the program. The locality is well positioned than any other council to reap the benefit of being the ‘landlord’ of all these agencies and institutions – all hands on deck. The plan will culminate into a donors’ conference.
The new dispensation provides the framework of confidence for donor participation especially if a robust fund management system is put in place that will generate and ensure confidence in transparency and the accounting of such funds. The plan will address the long term problems of the KMC area – it could be an urban renewal plan with ways to attract investment and new urban management systems and thus more money for the Council and Central Governement (rates and taxes). Aspirants to the Mayoral position of KMC should take note of the issues raised here and be prepared to work with the current newly elected Councilors. The days of routinized work days should be over and we should usher in creativity and more practical solutions to our ever challenging living condition.
The new dispensation is riding high on confidence – confidence (and hope) from the people and our development partners. We must not lose the opportunity. The plan could include a long term improvement of the Bakoteh site. Without going into details, this site could be compacted and later provided with concrete piles driven deep down to provide a series of stable columns to receive a concrete platform on which other users could be made (even a football field, a minimarket. Remember plastic is a big component of the solid waste and it does not decompose easily and the settlement period of the compaction could take ages. By then the alternative sites of land fill and other methods would have been developed.
This proposal is less sophisticated but it could be tried on a pilot scheme basis on a smaller scale per ward and then gradually expanded to other areas. We must admit that we have weak local councils with limited resources, qualified manpower and skills, not to mention the level of waste, revenue leakages and mismanagement. But crying over spilled milk does not solve the problem. We have the opportunity to turn things around by engaging the councils and electing, and more importantly, appointing (and/or training) the appropriate personnel to run the show. Decentralization should be a national agenda and must include the building of capacity within the councils – providing trained manpower and identifying appropriate sources of finance with the requisite powers to tap them. Good local governance not only eases the burden of development administration at the national level but also provides greater responsiveness to the needs of the people.