Clean, decent jobs in the waste management sector
As we approached the compound of the waste transfer station in Khartoum North I held my breath for a long while in a futile attempt to refuse the strong stench seeping into my nostrils. The familiar stink of garbage filling the air brought me back to those times when I hopped from one city dumpsite to another to film a documentary on urban solid waste management in my country. History repeated itself for after several years and here in Khartoum, I am again involved in a project dealing with ‘garbage’. This time it’s providing rapid jobs to the unemployed youth through waste management work.
The Labour-Intensive Work Opportunities Project is piloting the creation of employment for urban youth in Khartoum State applying the labour-based approach in infrastructure development. Waste management is one such sector that requires labour-intensive work and offers rapid jobs on hand. It exemplifies practical ways to gain skills through on-job training that even the unskilled person could avail of work immediately. The mindset is that any job associated with wastes is ‘dirty’, but this is a job that needs to be done, otherwise heaps of garbage would pile up and cause tremendous health and environmental problems to the community. Jobs in the waste management sector are readily available, not to mention that these are also economically and socially relevant.
Urban cities worldwide struggle to cope with the worsening garbage generated at a daily fast-paced rate and Khartoum State is not an exception. With a population of about 10 million people, Khartoum State accumulates an average of 4,500 tons of garbage per day. These domestic and commercial wastes are collected daily from the seven localities and brought to the transfer stations for compacting before they are transported to the landfill.
All types of collected rubbish mixed together produce toxic substances harmful to health and environment. If not managed properly, these wastes pose serious threats detrimental to society on a large-scale. With the ongoing rate of dumping in the landfill, time will come when cities and municipalities would have no more places to accommodate the ever-increasing tons of garbage.
Minimizing wastes is key. While essentially it should start at the household, waste segregation is a most important process in waste management starting at community level. Thus, the job of a waste sorter or waste picker is indispensable. Sorting out the recyclables such as plastic bottles, cans, papers, and scrap metals can lessen the amount of garbage piled into the landfill and also help waste sorters earn some cash by selling these items at junk shops.
Khartoum State’s Higher Council for Environment and Urban Promotion (HCEUP) – Supervisory Authority for Cleaning has identified urgent jobs available in the waste management sector for unskilled and semiskilled workers. They include collection of garbage from residential and market areas, waste sorting, driving and auto-mechanics, cleaning up of canals and sewage systems, and sand removal on the streets. Unemployed youth could fill this gap through the project’s on-job skills training approach. Apart from vocational skills, youth beneficiaries will also be trained on life skills including business and entrepreneurship, communication, leadership and values formation, as well as safety standards at work.
Dr. Bushra Ahmed, Director of Planning and Research of Khartoum’s HCEUP, acknowledged the need to pay attention in preparing workers for this type of jobs by giving them proper training. “In this way, engaging young people in labour-based work while also equipping them with needed skills is the most workable solution to address youth unemployment. Improving the garbage collection system could transform the sector into a more beneficial and economically viable venture so that waste management work would appear attractive to those involved,” he said. Mr. Ahmed summarized that the department’s priorities would be the training for cleaners and drivers, piloting the practice of integrated solid waste management through recycling, and mobilizing youth for community awareness campaigns on waste segregation.
Khartoum State also embarks on waste management facilities upgrade in technology and resources with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The aid agency has constructed training facilities and a workshop in Khartoum for hands-on skills training, an initiative which will be collaborated with the labour-intensive work project. JICA has also pledged to donate 80 units of garbage trucks to improve Khartoum State’s urban waste collection system.
Countries in the global South such as India, Brazil, and South Africa are advancing their waste management systems to address specific issues from environmental to economic, through public advocacy, legislation, and the new media.
In Brazil, recycling workers mostly women have formed a national movement and lobbied for good pay and safe working condition. As a collective voice, the National Movement of Recycling Workers in Brazil also takes the forefront in the zero waste campaign advocating for recycling as a way to reduce climate, waste and air pollution.
Being one of the world’s fastest growing information technology industries, India’s electrical and electronic wastes have raised serious public concern that the government has adopted national guidelines and specific policies for the collection, management, handling, and proper disposal of hazardous e-wastes.
Following the digital media trend, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs has developed a web-based data system, the South African Waste Information System (SAWIS), which is used by the government and industry to capture data on wastes generated, recycled, and disposed of in the county on a monthly and annual basis. Information on waste management can be accessed from the South African Waste Information Centre website.
By Zoe Latumbo, Reporting and Communications Officer, UNDP Sudan