By Yero S. Bah
According to WasteAid, a UK-based environmental organization that has had a presence in the Gambia since 2015, the country has limited capacity for proper waste management and it practices open dumping and rampant burning of all types of waste.
Besides, Bully Touray, a senior Public Health Officer who works with the Gambia’s Ministry of Health says the country has a limited number of functioning smaller incinerators in few health facilities. He further told Social Voices that, Municipalities and Area council wastes collectors do not practice waste segregation techniques when collecting waste across the country, it takes time before garbage bins are collected, and they need to call collectors before these bins are emptied.
“Some council collectors don’t use any segregation techniques; instead, they just collect everything together, and frequently, garbage bins will be completely overflowing by the time someone comes to pick it up. Before they arrive, we have to phone the area council collectors, explains Mr. Touray.
Meanwhile, a published proposal paper by the School of Public Health at the Gambia College on addressing indiscriminate dumping of waste for concerned authorities in October 2019, states that waste and environmental management are alarming critical issues in the Gambia nowadays, noting that the Gambia government through its Municipalities and Area councils adopted a Nationwide Waste Management Master Plan (2017-2021) tagged the “Gambia Zero” indiscriminate waste dumping (2017-2021) Action Plan to reduce waste.
However, according to the same report, the impacts of the policy have massively gone unnoticed both at regional and national levels signaling the total failure of the policy.
Touray, who is also a senior Public Health Officer at the Brikama Regional Hospital, believes there are just a few operating incinerators, saying special wastes’ created by the health sector are normally collected by local area councils’ waste management authorities.
There aren’t many incinerators in the country. Touray claims that there was one working incinerator in Kotu at the Central Medical Store, where sharps are taken for burning, “however I am unsure of its current status.” When it was still the prenatal period, Touray said, “We used to immunize plenty of pregnant ladies, placed these clinical wastes into the safety boxes, and transfer them to Kotu or wait for the local municipal collectors.”
To deal with the tens of thousands of tons of solid waste that wind up in open-air landfills, The Gambia requires an incinerator facility. This would improve both the visual environment and the natural beauty of the country’s geography. According to Abdoukarim Sanneh, a Gambian resident in the United Kingdom (UK) and author of an essay titled “The Environmental Policy and Regulations in the Gambia and a Way Forward,” a healthy environment improves people’s living circumstances and lengthens life expectancy.”
WasteAid, a UK-based NGO has acknowledged the Gambia’s little capacity for waste management as it primarily relies on open burning and dumping of waste, which results in poor health, financial losses, and climate emissions and could interfere with local and national sustainable development goals.
After decades of difficulties with these extremely dangerous pathogenic special waste materials, the smallest country in continental Africa—the Gambia—inaugurated its first-ever huge ultramodern clinical waste treatment plant in Farato, a town located 36 kilometers south of the capital city Banjul, in late 2022.
The World Bank is providing funding for the project as part of the Gambia’s Covid-19 response activities, and it aims to improve the nation’s health system and capabilities.
Health experts define the management of healthcare-generated waste as the total stream of waste from healthcare facilities, including blood, body parts, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, sharps, non-sharp medical devices, and occasionally radioactive materials. According to studies, the materials endanger biodiversity, and humanity, and severely contribute to climate change.
Following decades of impasses, the excitement among health officials and Farato residents regarding the opening of the national waste treatment plant was audible.
President Adama Barrow stated at the plant’s opening that the Waste Treatment Plant can handle medical waste produced by the nation’s healthcare establishments. The medical waste will be burned by the equipment to eliminate all potentially dangerous components.
Thus, one of the most crucial approaches for infection prevention and control is the use of contemporary waste treatment techniques, the President stated.
The waste factory has three contemporary refrigerated garbage trucks to carry medical waste from all healthcare facilities in The Gambia, including privately held clinics.
President Adama Barrow claims that “we have already opened three incinerators in each of the seven health areas of the nation.”
According to the World Bank official, Alex van Trotsenburg, the D37 million World Bank-funded initiative is updating the country’s health infrastructures, providing standard equipment, and enhancing human capability.
With 99.9% disinfection efficiency, the clinical waste treatment equipment Ecosteryl 250 series processes 300kg of clinical waste per hour. The factory put an end to decades’ worth of concerns and issues with mounds of “special waste” items.
According to Ms. Isatou Sarr, the construction of this “special waste treatment facility” in Farato is a complete blessing for us, the residents of our town, and Gambians in general, but particularly for the health industry and the environment. But, the Gambia has additional waste management plans as well.
Limitations of Incinerators and Operators:
However, there are still challenges on several fronts including a limited number of well-trained operators, the frequent power outages and their possible effects on these new machines, lack of decentralization of the treatment plant across the country, the limited number of special waste transport vehicles to collect these wastes from the various hospitals, homes and health centers, poor adaption to waste segregation practices by health officials and citizens, and the lack of incentive packages for ordinary citizens for waste segregation adoptions to do away with the economic cost for citizens are key limitations.
Introduction of the Results-Based Financing Project
The Gambia has practically all health institutions implement the new RBF scheme. It is a campaign that educates and informs healthcare professionals on the need of using waste segregation techniques for effective waste management.
Touray, said, “This project is helping us utilize color bags to appropriately segregate garbage, such as black for clinical waste, yellow for biohazards, and different colors for other sorts of wastes.
The NEA New Environmental Management Bill
Impeccable sources told Social Voices that the President’s Cabinet has accepted the bill that the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Ministry of Environment submitted for consideration. The environment minister will soon introduce the bill before Parliament.
In utter contrast to the Gambia’s present judicial system, which presumes “the accused innocent until proven guilty,” this measure merely aims to “consider the accused guilty until proven innocent.” says Dr. Dawda Badjie, the Executive Director of the National Environmental Agency.
The NEA is attempting to govern waste management throughout the nation in an entirely radical new way. If this bill is passed into law, the NEA would have the authority to detain suspects and penalize offenders severely. It will be the responsibility of the accused to demonstrate their innocence to the NEA in court; failure to do so will result in incarceration.
“Under the existing law, we do not influence the circumstance. According to Dr. Dawda Badjie, “With the new bill, we see indiscriminate waste dumpers “guilty until proven innocent instead of what obtains today where the accused is presumed “innocent until proven guilty.” Court procedures are time-consuming but frequently ineffective because NEA officials cannot decide on court cases.
Dr. Badjie claims that commercial drivers must warn their passengers not to toss trash out of their vehicles carelessly because if they are discovered, the driver would be held accountable.
Modern Waste Treatment Techniques Are Introduced to Gambians by WasteAid
Another waste management program is WasteAid, which is carrying out various circular waste and recycling activities that significantly reduce climate emissions, increase climate resilience and provide Gambian women gardeners with much-needed sustainable employment options.
Most recently, WasteAid completed a project with funding from the EU in collaboration with significant local players to divert food waste from disposal while instructing female farmers how to generate compost and sustainable cooking fuel. According to Ingrid Henrys, WasteAid Project Coordinator in The Gambia, “We are lowering deforestation, boosting livelihoods and climatic resilience, and mitigating climate change emissions” with this strategy.
WasteAid, in collaboration with Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) & Women’s Initiative the Gambia, has been given €100,000 by the EU Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA+) to test an innovative way to redirect organic waste into useful products to address the issue of organic waste.
Being a coastal area, the Greater Banjul Region has hazardous waste leakage issues into the water table and the ocean, according to Ingrid Henrys.
The first step is to teach the female gardeners who produce the fruits and vegetables that are sold in the marketplaces how to compost organic waste.
It’s crucial to incorporate women since they are the ones who carry out most of the city’s small-scale fruit and vegetable farming, according to Ingrid. “The pilot will begin with 30 women farmers from two gardens, and the women will select the participants. After receiving training, individuals will be able to impart their knowledge and talents to others.
According to Lamin S. Sanyang, Director of Services at KMC, “When we talked to the women, we learned they were spending a significant amount of money on chemicals, yet their production was going down every year.” They will save money by switching to organic compost, and the soil will be more fertile as a result.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.