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9 January, 2022 11:21:26 PM

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Can slums be free of waste?

Though they explored means of profit making for waste, they were not aware on the health hazards of scattered waste in the environment. As a result, they were not willing to spend money for waste management.
Bipasha Dutta
Can slums be free of waste?

Average life expectancy of a waste picker is only 39 years in countries like Mexico where the national average life expectancy is 67 years. In Bangladesh, the average life expectancy is now more than 72 years.

However, the life expectancy for the waste pickers are still predicted to be less than 40 years.
In the slums of the cities, waste picking became a source of earning specially for children and adolescent as it requires no capital and low skills. Among the waste pickers more than 50% are children, aged below 15 years. Moreover, half of them are girl where their occupational health and safety are often neglected.

A study found that the most prevalent types of occupational risks for the waste include; bites from insects and rats, cuts and bruises, skin disease, respiratory and gastro-intestinal tract problems, eye irritation, body aches, general weakness, and frequent fever.

Besides, waste pickers are often one of the most economically deprived groups because of the excising social stigma against waste pickers. Working in a hazardous condition, children and adolescent waste picker earn around only 40 to 60 BDT (US$ 0.6 to 0.9) per day. Moreover, waste collectors’ children strive to get any white colour job even if they have proper qualification.

In this backdrop, a baseline research was conducted by “Mirpur Urban Community Empowerment Project (MUCEP) by World Vision Bangladesh (WVB) with 6000 households in 10 slums from Mirpur. This research revealed that more than three-fourth of the slum people did not have the facility of solid waste management chain or trash service.

Around 66.1 percent of households were used to store home-produced garbage as per revealed findings. Just before dumping, more than half of the households (55.8%) liked to separate the family produced garbage in different categories like organic (decomposed material) and inorganic materials (metal, plastic materials, etc.).

A vast portion of the household (89.7%) was already aware of making a profit by selling organic or inorganic materials. In the meantime, more than half of the households (55.9%) use to sell plastic or metallic materials and 16.8 percent keep these materials for further use.

Though they explored means of profit making for waste, they were not aware on the health hazards of scattered waste in the environment. As a result, they were not willing to spend money for waste management. The study reveals that among water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management, the respondents from the slums spend the lowest amount of money for waste management with an amount of only 20.7 BDT.

Consequently, general lack of proper waste management systems, insufficient water access and poor drainage were some of the common problems that created an unhealthy living environment within the slums.

MUCEP project started their initiatives to establish community based waste disposal system in the 10 slums in 2020. They took several initiatives like forming waste management committee and distribution of 3000 waste bins in slums.

However, the COVID context turned down the expected positive change. Managing livelihood became harder than ever. The slum dwellers started to struggle more for surviving. No wonder, they could not care about the waste management and its health hazards.

Besides, with the increasing importance of hand washing in the COVID 19 context, the concerned authorities had less importance on waste management. Thus, the scattered waste and bad odour became more intense in the slums. People used to burn the plastic frequently without knowing that the burning plastic emits toxic gasses.

To overcome this situation, some unique approaches were adopted by MUCEP.

Considering the social norms in Bangladesh, religious leaders have vital roles to play for raising the community awareness. In collaboration with Islamic Foundation, 25 religious leaders (Imams) were engaged for raising awareness on waste management. The leaders became active in making the slum people aware on the harmful effect of improper waste management. They also motivated to overcome the existing social stigma against the waste collectors.

MUCEP also supported to remove the wastes from the community’s temporary collection point to the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) operated secondary collection point for three slums.

Consequently, the dwellers became interested in proper waste management considering the income generation opportunities from waste. In spite of collecting the scattered recyclable waste like bottle, they could collect bunch of recyclable waste from the collection point. They found it more profitable.

Simultaneously, two waste collectors were appointed for each slum for collecting waste from households by taking all the required safety measures. Now, they earn BDT 6000-BDT 7000 each month. This approach on the one hand creates opportunities for developing waste entrepreneur from the slums. On the other hand, the children and adolescent are being demotivated for being engaged in hazardous waste collection.

Children and adolescent also have their representation in the waste management committee. Learning sessions made them aware of the importance of proper waste management. Now they motivate their friends and family for proper waste management and demotivate the other children and adolescent for being waste collector until they become adult.

Gradually the slums became clearer with very limited scatted waste. However, for ensuring sustainability of the urban waste management, there is no alternative of developing active collaboration with the city corporations.

The writer is Manager - Strategy, Innovation and Knowledge Management, World Vision Bangladesh. E-mail: [email protected] 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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