Poor waste management practices cause serious health risks by creating potential vector breeding grounds, contaminating water sources and creating feeding risks to livestock. The accumulation of solid waste often causes blockages in drainage channels and environmental health problems associated with stagnant and polluted surface water; fire risks; and air pollution if the waste is burnt.
Oxfam Technical Briefs:
Example equipment specifications from the Oxfam Supply Centre:
- All programmes should undertake a solid waste audit to determine whether solid waste is a risk and what activities have to be done to reduce the risks. At a minimum the following questions should be included in the audit:
- Is solid waste a problem?
- How do people dispose of their waste?
- What type and quantity of solid waste is produced in households and in public places (markets, schools, transport hubs)?
- Has there been specific waste generated by the disaster? (e.g. rubble following an earthquake, or animal carcasses after flooding or drought).
- Can solid waste be disposed of on site, or does it need to be collected and disposed of offsite?
- Are there medical facilities and activities producing waste? How is this being disposed of? Who is responsible for this?
- Which government and other agencies are involved in waste management? What are their roles and responsibilities and have these changed as a result of the emergency situation?
- Personal Protective Equipment and clothing (gloves, boots, mask) should be provided for volunteers and staff working on waste management activities, as well as including soap for washing.
Household Waste Disposal
- If disposal at a household level is promoted, the preference is for waste to be put into small pits and regularly covered with soil or ash to reduce smells, flies, rodents, etc. Pits should be:
- >10m from dwellings.
- >15m from water sources.
- At least 1.5m above water table.
- Approximately 1 - 1.5m deep.
- Surrounded by a small fence to avoid accidents and scavenging.
- When waste reaches just below the surface, the waste should be compacted and covered with soil.
- WASH programmes should not promote household-level burning of waste for the following reasons:
- Health impacts – burning of waste (in particular plastics) produces toxic fumes that are harmful to humans and animals, and in particular to young children.
- Safety impacts – from uncontrolled burning near to houses.
- Nuisance impacts of constant smoke.
- Environmental impacts of atmospheric CO2 emissions.
Hazardous Waste Management
- A variety of hazardous wastes may be produced in the course of WASH activities or other humanitarian operations: these require specific attention to avoid environmental and groundwater pollution and for health and safety reasons.
- If WASH staff are unsure of how to treat or dispose of hazardous waste they should always seek advice from Regional or Oxford-based WASH Advisors.
- WASH staff should ensure all Oxfam WASH activities associated with hazardous waste are in compliance with national environmental legislation and international best practice.
- Specific examples of hazardous wastes which may be encountered through WASH activities include:
- Non-sterile Delagua membranes and pads should be made safe by autoclaving or burning (dry them first).
- Alum residual from water treatment operations should be buried.
- Expired or surplus chemicals (e.g. chlorine, mosquito insecticide) should be contained in sealed plastic drums before landfill disposal if no specialist disposal is available.