David Newman, President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) explains why understanding the challenges of waste management in rapidly developing countries, is both fascinating and daunting…
A few days back I attended a meeting of the CIWM in London where there were several presentations from developing countries, India, Nepal, Africa. I listened to an English woman living in India who has become a champion for waste clean-ups in her town. She describes a situation which is beyond belief for us, living in the developed world.
All along the city’s streets lies waste of all sorts, from dead animals to paper and waste from small industries. And in among that, waste pickers looking for scraps to recover and sell to the market.
Another woman spoke of her work in Africa where they provide advice to scavengers to help them become more formal enterprises- again people living in desperate conditions trying to make a life from nothing.
Well, it's not depressing at all actually; in fact I was enthralled by the ingenuity, strength and will power of these people who are often facing their reality with big grins on their faces as they empower themselves through their own work and create financial independence- a precarious, unhealthy, vulnerable life but a life that is their own.
In Nepal one NGO has helped set up a compost plant which now treats most of the organic waste from the city; in Ghana plastics sorting and recovery for recycling as water buckets; in India the hope that has sprung from Prime Minister's Modi declaration that he wants to clean up the nation.
And in this context, as ISWA's recent Globalisation Final Report has evidenced, international aid going to waste projects is virtually nothing, some 0.3% of all aid- and much of that goes to middle income countries like China. So the poorest, who have most need, are receiving nothing.
This is a challenge ahead of us, to change the thinking on international aid and make waste a priority, for health, environmental, resource and economic reasons- and to make jobs in those poorest countries.
Altogether the meeting was inspiring and humbling, bringing me back to earth again as we see what can be achieved with so little even in countries where there is a desperate need for waste management on an industrial scale.
David Newman is President of the International Solid Waste Association
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