WasteAid trustee Rachel Wildblood has sent this update from Cambodia, where she has been speaking to people working at a dumpsite close to Tonle Sap lake

As well as looking at drainage and flood protection, a large part of the project I have just joined in Cambodia is waste related so for a WasteAid trustee, this is of particular interest. The waste element of this project also offers the greatest environmental and social challenges.

This week I went to the existing dumpsites in two provincial towns around the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia. In a natural flood plain, the challenges of engineering challenges waste disposal here are considerable. In addition there are of course social challenges.  Each dumpsite has a number of people who work there to collect recyclables in order to generate income.

Dumpsites pose a serious environmental health risk

Dumpsites pose a serious environmental health risk

We spoke to several waste pickers at these sites, which our project plans to close in favour of better engineered landfills. We asked the pickers about the impact of this closure on their lives and the results were surprisingly varied.  For one woman, with younger children, the closure of the site will be catastrophic. She cannot travel to the new landfill site as it will be too far, so she is worried about how she will get her future income.

Children growing up on dumpsites often suffer from malnourishment, stunting and disease

Children growing up on dumpsites often suffer from malnourishment, stunting and disease

A second group of people we spoke who were having a rest in hammocks swinging above a fetid stream at the edge of the dumpsite.  They were pleased at the prospect of landfill closure. A woman in her late 40s with adult children who work in a garment factory smiled and said it would be a reason for her to stay at home as it was time her children looked after her.  Another waste picker, also in a hammock, swinging in the flies, said it is no problem for him at all. If they close the dump site he will simply go back to collecting non timber products from the forest. It was what he did before he decided to be a waste picker, but he finds waste picking to be easier work and shorter hours.

So there was no consensus of opinion on the local economic impacts of closing these uncontrolled dumpsites for waste pickers.  However we did see that some of the waste pickers had their kids with them. Although the people we spoke to did not complain of any significant health problems other than the sores knees we all get over the age of 40, I suspect that to them what constitutes ‘good health’ is far lower that we would expect in the UK.

Collecting recyclable materials from dumpsites can be dangerous

Collecting recyclable materials from dumpsites can be dangerous

Further down the road, 500m from the dump we spoke to a householder who lives with the daily dust, odour and flies that come from the site. She had already complained to the village chief but nothing had been done.  So for her and her family, the prospect of closing the site is a fantastic one that would mean it is easier to keep her house and children clean and healthy.  She was in fact one of the more prosperous people as her house was made of brick and had glass in the windows. For the more common wooden buildings with bars at the windows, it is far harder to keep the dust and flies out.

Environmentally of course, the closure of an uncontrolled dumpsite and instead the use of a landfill site which offers protection for groundwater and surface water, litter and dust control, is a far better bet. But it was clear that socially there will be winners and losers which is why the resettlement team on this project has their work cut out. It is their job to look at alternative livelihood opportunities and income restoration when closure eventually happens.

The informal recycling sector is thought to involve some 20 million people worldwide

The informal recycling sector is thought to involve some 20 million people worldwide

 

Funded by the Asian Development Bank, this is an urban environmental improvement project in two provinces around the sensitive environment of Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia.

WasteAid trustee Rachel Wildblood runs Green Blue Consulting, providing environmental management and waste management consulting advice and support for private sector, public sector and International Funding Institutions.

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