750 deaths in 7 months prompt calls for an end to open dumpsites

More than 750 deaths related to poor waste management and dumpsites were recorded around the world in seven months earlier this year, the result of around 40 per cent of the world’s waste ending up in open dumpsites.

750 deaths in 7 months prompt calls for an end to open dumpsites
The Payatas landfill in Manila, nicknamed Smokey Mountain, is one of the 50 biggest dumpsites in the world.

These figures were reported as the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) opened its annual world congress, this year taking place in Novi Sad in Serbia, by presenting a roadmap for closing the world’s biggest and most damaging waste dumpsites.

According to ISWA, a global association that works to promote and develop sustainable waste management, while open dumps have not been permitted in developed countries for more than 30 years for environmental and public health reasons, many developing countries still rely on them, with three to four billion people around the world served by open sites.

Fifty of the biggest ones, it says, affect the daily lives of 64 million people, the equivalent to the population of France, and together hold up to 815 million cubic metres of waste, more than 320 times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza, with severe implications for the health and safety of those using them.

As well as those living near to the sites who use them to dispose of their waste, over 52,000 people work on the sites informally to recover materials of value. The association recorded more than 750 deaths that had been caused by inadequate waste management between December 2015 and June 2016, and found that exposure to open dumpsites in South-East Asia has a greater detrimental effect on the population’s life expectancy than malaria.

But in addition to the human cost, ISWA estimates that open dumpsites cost the equivalent of tens of billions of US dollars and that, as urbanisation and population growth continues, especially in the developing world, the proliferation of the sites will lead to them accounting for 8-10 per cent of global, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

Roadmap to navigate ‘a global health emergency’

To address the growing issue, ISWA has produced a ‘Roadmap for closing waste dumpsites’ to provide local and central governments with the process and procedures needed to close a dumpsite and develop alternative waste management systems.

750 deaths in 7 months prompt calls for an end to open dumpsites Looking particularly at the 50 biggest sites, which are spread across South and Central America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central and South East Asia, the report aims to show that for each case, there is a roadmap that results in an improved waste management system with minimum environmental and health impacts.

Presenting the report, Antonis Mavropoulos, ISWA President and co-author of the roadmap, noted that closing the sites is easier said than done, but hopes that providing a template for governments to follow will lead to partnerships that will facilitate their removal.

He said: “Dumpsites are becoming a global health emergency. We are well aware that closing down a dumpsite is neither a simple nor an easy task. It requires an alternative waste management system, with adequate planning, institutional and administrative capacity, financial resources, social support and finally political consensus.

“All of these conditions are really difficult and sometimes impossible to meet in countries where dumpsites are the dominant method of waste disposal and level of governance quality is questionable. This is why ISWA calls for the creation of an international alliance that will drive the dumpsites closure in the poorest countries of the world. We think this is the minimum response to an ongoing health emergency.”

The Year of Clean and Healthy Planet

Earlier this month, ISWA was one of the organisations to write to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling for 2018 to be declared the Year of Clean and Healthy Planet.

Composed by six non-profit organisations, including the Let’s Do It Foundation, WasteAid UK and the Plastic Soup Foundation, the letter appeals for the UN to bring more global attention to waste and pollution control in less developed nations by making a concerted effort to work with a range of international, national and local stakeholders to ‘give the people of the world a chance to share in the progress of development more equally’.

The letter reads: ‘The amounts [of global waste] are staggering – over four billion tonnes a year – and less than 20 per cent of this is recycled, mostly in economically advanced countries. About a third of this is not even collected, but simply dumped into rivers, burnt openly, or onto the streets and byways of townships and cities globally…

‘Whilst the sophisticated conurbations of developed nations seem to have overcome the problems, not enough attention is given by public administrators in less developed nations to waste and pollution control… Part of this is due to the overwhelming growth of cities, but part is due to a substantial lack of public awareness as to the risks of living in and among one’s own waste.’

 ISWA’s ‘Roadmap for Closing Waste Dumpsites’ can be downloaded from the association’s website.

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