Monday, April 30, 2012

Managing Waste, the Sri Lankan Perspective


With the seven billionth Earthling seeing the light of day on the 31st of October last year the world now has waste created by 7 billion people to dispose of.  Can humanity handle the unprecedented rise in the sum of waste created? Improper solid waste management mechanisms mean that 7 billion people are exposed to the threat of climate change. Is the world on course to meet its waste targets? These are questions are faced by countries the world over. Sri Lanka, the tiny teardrop shaped island in South Asia, too is faced with such questions. Being a tiny island in South Asia, Sri Lanka falls into the UNFCCC and IPCC’s category of ‘vulnerable’ small island nations under serious threat from various climate change impacts. Sri Lanka’s Energy Policy seeks to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels- which are 100% imported- by promoting renewable energy.

Managing urban waste

HelpO: an NGO committed to conducting Grass root level social welfare programs with the assistance of UNDP Sri Lanka, under the auspices of the Galle Municipal Council, constructed a bio gas plant to dump market waste of the city. Following this project, which was a roaring success, a mechanism was developed whereby, in the grassroots, the villagers themselves got-together and made a small financial contribution for the maintenance of a biogas tank. UNDP simply made the initial investment and allowed the beneficiaries to invest in the maintenance of the plant. Of course Biogas helped minimize the effects of climate change, but for the hapless villagers it saved their land and waterways from harmful waste; provided an excellent organic fertilizer and best of all, produced a cost efficient and profitable fuel. UNDP initiated projects are underway in various parts of the island, addressing solid waste management concerns while also generating an extra income through the bi-products of waste management such as bio fuel and compost manure. Simple composting systems were an effective, low-tech solution to reduce large quantities of waste and generate manure for agriculture. With approximately 60% - 70% of waste being bio-degradable, composting has now become an important component of an integrated waste management process.

According to Dr. Ananda Mallawathanthri, who is UNDP’s Assistant Resident Representative cum Team Leader: Environment, Energy and Disaster Management, the UNDP supported the biogasification of waste at two different levels: i.e. at the community level, and the institutional level. In community the
level, one bio gas plant was constructed for five to eight neighboring houses, while in the institutional level, biogas plants were constructed in hotels, hospitals, military bases, schools and even prisons. Financial and technical support for some of these community level projects was channeled in directly to NGOs and CBOs by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Program.

Solid Waste: a tool for reconciliation

For over three decades, the Northern and North Eastern areas of the island were ravaged by a barbaric war. Following its conclusion, Dr. Mallawathanthri elaborated how, solid waste management became a tool for the promotion of national harmony and reconciliation. Recently, the United Nations Development Program – Disaster Risk Management team partnered with the Transition Recovery Program to organize an exposure visit for a group of environment officers, public health officers, local government council secretaries and field engineers from former war torn areas, to southern Sri Lanka where they could observe successful projects and meet their implementers.  Solid waste management created a platform for reconciliation and North-South interpersonal dialogue. 
With the exponential industrial growth predicted for the newly liberated Northern and Eastern provinces and with many post-conflict initiatives to fast track development, already underway, the UNDP field office in Jaffna awarded a grant to the Nallur local government council to implement a compost system to manage the doubling amounts of solid waste collected. The UNDP and the Central Environmental Authority are also formulating a system to provide further support and help make the Northern Province waste free.

Financial support of the UNDP was also utilized for the implementation of a waste management project to convert banana waste into value added products such as handicraft, paper and fabrics, as a cottage industry among the rural community. Banana, a popular tree that grows freely in tropical climates is valued only for the soft nutritious fruit concealed in its slippery peel. It is widely grown in Sri Lanka as a garden tree and commercially in plantations. Banana waste is now used to create handicrafts and other products such as wall hangings, table mats, handbags, key tags, and even fabrics.  Again, solid waste which was once a menace has metamorphosed to a profit generating cottage industry.
In .
Dr. Mallawathanthri concluded by adding that UNDP Sri Lanka will continue to draw inspirations from countries in the region, and from around the world and replicate success strategies in one country, in another. He added that UNDP welcomes experimentation and that it is ready to make an initial investment to construct a model based on a new idea to convince governments and authorities the world over that the idea is worth the investment of their funds.

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