Michelle Wilson, Network Director of WasteAid, shares the organisation’s perspective on how waste management, the climate, inclusivity and resilience are linked together.
It is estimated that 90% of natural disasters are water related but what has that go to do with waste? Over the last 10 years cities across every continent including Accra, Mumbai, Jakarta, Cotonou, Lagos, Managua and Mexico City, have experienced floods causing thousands to be displaced and land loss of life, aggravated by drainage channels blocked with waste. WasteAid argues that investment in proper waste management systems means an investment in resilience to climate shocks and disasters for the poorest in communities today.
Risk assessment methodology defines a disaster/shock as when the ‘event’ (whether that be a storm, flood, earthquake etc) meets a vulnerability. An extreme weather event such as a flood happening in a city with adequate waste management systems and clear drainage has less impact when compared to the same weather event in a lower-income crowded city where drains are already blocked and overflowing with municipal waste. Urban disasters and shocks such as floods are more often than not a symptom of deep inequality and poverty. The poorest in communities where WasteAid works, such as Guwahati in India, or often those forced to live in settlements that offer poor protection when flooding occurs, can be faced with loss of life, livelihoods and belongings.
So how do we solve this? WasteAid is addressing this problem in a number of different ways. Firstly, we are trying to support countries to adopt a circular economy approaches by recognising the value of the waste that ends up in illegal dumpsites, drains and landfill. It is estimated that only 10% of the plastic that could be diverted is recycled in South Africa (and South Africa is one country that has made great strides in driving circularity in SA). Through the Circular Economy Network project, we are supporting 36 entrepreneurs who are all working on ideas and initiatives that will reduce the amount of waste produced. In Cameroon, WasteAid is supporting REDPLAST to divert PET plastic from their clogged waterway through integrating reclaimers into their supply chain. Our experience shows that if the incentives are right and waste is seen as a resource, then there is a huge potential for materials to be fed back into the production processes and not into waterways. Diversion of waste is not going to be enough, much more coordinated and large-scale spending is required at municipality level if change is to occur.
Municipalities need to support to the setup of functioning waste management systems. With 1 in 3 people globally forced to dump or burn their waste it is time for ODAs and central governments to get serious about investment in adequate services and infrastructure. WasteAid advocates that increasing priority be put on investment in waste management systems, and to consider this investment in the same way they would consider other climate resilience and preparedness approaches. With COP26 approaching, this investment could be viewed as part of the developed countries commitment to climate finance. In the long term, WasteAid argues investment now will more than pay back. A recent evaluation of early response and resilience building in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, found that for every US$1 spent resulted in net benefits of between US$2.3 and US$3.3 aggregated across the three countries (Venton, 2018).
Let’s use this opportunity at COP26 to help governments recognise the link between waste and climate change and to invest in waste management systems that will save lives.
 The role of solid waste management as a response to urban flood risk in developing countries, a case study analysis; J Lamond, N Bhattahcharya & R Bloch, 2012