Waste Management: Looming Catastrophe

Courtesy of UN Environment/OCHA

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved
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"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." Confucius

It has been some time that Dominicans have been sounding the alarm of the deplorable waste Management state in the island; regrettably, all of their concerns have been falling on deaf ears.  So, it is no surprise that after a major storm like Hurricane Maria, disaster waste becomes a catastrophe. It was with some hope that a team of experts (commissioned through the UN), on island to review and evaluate the Disaster Waste issue, will provide clarity and guide for a new direction.  Unfortunately, their Draft findings appear to be straight out of a Horror Movie.

Here are the key findings from the Evaluation and Assessment.

CRITICAL

1. Biomedical Waste Collection - The centralized collection of waste was not regular. Hence, there was accumulation of waste after Maria, because there was limited storage. Waste was exposed to heat and sun.

2. Biomedical Waste Treatment - The PMH Incinerator had not be working since 2013 so all waste, body parts, infectious material were being dumped untreated at the Fond Cole Dump Site. To make matters worse the team noted at that same location, an unplugged freezer with body parts sitting in the sun.



Courtesy of UN Environment/OCHA



The experts found that, the situation posed a severe health risk, specifically in the collection of biomedical wastes in non-equipped trucks. 

3. Domestic waste collection - The centralized collection method was dysfunctional. Scheduled collection outside Roseau and Portsmouth were sketchy. This left many parts of the island resorting to other means, like burning or creating temporary sites, which means up to one month after the hurricane DSWM (Dominica Solid Waste Management) was still unable to handle the waste being cleared by the Public Works in Roseau. The mission found that waste compacting trucks partially dysfunctional due to lack of maintenance

4. Domestic waste dumping - The dump site at Fond Cole is almost filled to capacity, a full 5 years ahead of the planned capacity time.  The location of the site along a river is sensitive and, they found that the waste produced by Maria would saturate the site. Furthermore, the haphazard way in which the waste was managed at the site made it difficult for large trucks to access the top.
They noted that the practice of alternating waste layers and soil layers was not being followed at the dumpsite. They found that while Maria impacted the waste management system it was already dysfunctional before Hurricane. 

PROBLEMATIC
Here are few of the many problematic areas that were highlighted.

1. Metal ferrous and non-ferrous. There were insufficient sorting because of the large amount of scrap metal that was seen all around the island.  There were no regular collection practices for export that have been established. So, after Maria there are excess amounts of scrap metal from houses and cars.


2. Hazardous waste - There was no sorting of this type of waste, specifically for items like waste oil and batteries. They are just dumped at Fond Cole


3. Disaster debris - The experts could not identify any Disaster Waste management Plan. Even though Dominica is frequently affected by storms, there was no disaster pre-planned temporary  waste management storage. What they found was that debris was quickly removed from Roseau by Public Works and stored on public land.  As for the rest of the country most of the debris was stored on the roadside or on old dump sites. They found there was a serious lack of Waste Management involvement.


4. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) usually found in soft drink, and water bottles is a clear plastic considered safe, strong and 100% recyclable. The experts found that domestic waste was not sorted and had abundant PET-based products which was filling and clogging the landfill.
The team proposed some short term and long term plans to keep waste management under control and to mitigate biomedical and debris management.


5. Waste Water Management
Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) in Roseau is poorly maintained. The team found corroded parts. The primary screening screws at the WWTP, as well as its supports, are broken due to corrosion.  Generally, the plant appears to be in good condition but, it was poorly maintained even before Maria. However, since the disaster, parts of the network have been flushed away and need immediate attention. One of the two waste water pumping stations does not work.

6. Composting
Very little initiatives were identified for composting. Almost 30 - 50% of domestic waste could be composted and, used in agriculture, while simultaneously reducing the waste placed  into the landfill. Maria generated a lot of broken trees that exceeded capacity of waste disposal.The existing practice of   burning on the side of the road or leaving wood and plant material to decay in the forest is not productive.

Recommendations (Short Term)

Biomedical Waste
a) The experts recommended that the non-functioning incinerator at the PMH be removed, along with the disconnected freezer with body parts exposed to the elements.  A new incinerator should be installed within 2-4 weeks to manage biomedical waste. They noted that the new incinerator that was ordered was still on the port but nevertheless the capacity appeared to be less than optimal; only 58 kg/hr.

b) A proper medical waste collection system must be implemented within 2-6 months. Implementation of a logistic system to reduce storage time at all facilities was forwarded. They further recommended that a minimum of 2 cooling trucks be acquired to collect waste from clinics and those trucks must be maintained at all times. The PMH seems to be functioning as the collection center for biomedical waste and should be equipped with its own cooling room at the new hospital.


Debris Management
Empty public places of debris, with priority being given to school yards within within 1 month. Sort debris on site in large categories eg.  metal. Wood, Domestic Waste, Soil and Stone.  Move trucks out as soon as they are filled. The experts had some suggestions as to what should be done with each category as it relates to recycling and disposal

Waste Water Management
The Company that built the WWTP should be invited to inspect and undertake remedial work immediately. The wastewater network must be cleaned, repaired or bypassed, where needed, to bring back the wastewater to the WWTP
Develop and implement a proper maintenance plan together with trained mechanics and electricians having adequate tools and spares.
Public Education campaigns must be developed to ensure proper use of the sewage system

Waste Management
A new landfill to replace Fond Cole is of utmost priority. There should be a choice of sites and the best be chosen. That should be done with the consultation with the communities affected. The project must include state-of-the-art techniques in order to secure leachate collection and treatment. The site should be accessible regardless of the weather.

Recommendations (Long term) Highlights

  • The Administration need develop a clear long term waste management strategy, integrating tourism development, which is an existing part of their economic plan.
  • Ensure waste management becomes a priority, allowing the country to harness economic opportunities of the Caribbean regional waste market.
  • Consider healthcare waste as a potential hazard requiring more rigorous management and disposal standards.
  • Secure a long term operational and maintenance budget for waste, which ensures the continuation of public services.
  • Construct and maintain hazardous material storage and waste sites to resist disasters.

These are just some the issues included in the recommendations. Among other issues, the report mentioned the improper management of the forest. It seems that Dominica is missing out on the potential for a Lumber Industry. For anyone who would like to read the complete  Draft report here is the link Management of Disaster Waste .  
After reading the report it will be clear how this Labor Administration has totally failed in this area.  This post-Maria Disaster Waste Management assessment by independent experts has exposed the total lack competence of the Labor Administration. After nearly 18 years in power, this is a major failure that they do not appreciate the importance of a well functioning Waste Management system in a country such as Dominica. In particular, they have failed to recognize the critical link between waste management and the health and well being of the population. How are they going to manage the lofty goal of being the first Climate Resilience country in the Caribbean?  The prospect looks grim.

The data in this post was adapted from the "Management of post-hurricane disaster waste" Draft Report October 2017 - UN Environment/OCHA Joint Unit. The interim report was  presented to the Ministry of Finance on October 18, 2017.
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