On the Road Again

By Brenna Walsh

One of the most interesting things about having this position at l’institute africain de gestion urbaine (IAGU) has certainly been the opportunity to see the country. I have been involved in a project in which IAGU, the Senegal-Luxemburg Cooperative and Unité de coordination de la gestion des déchets solides -the national body who oversees waste management in Senegal- are working together to implement waste management systems in six different communities in northeastern Senegal. I actually happen to be about to head out on my second (and potentially not my last, even though I have a little less than five weeks left in Senegal) driving tour of northeastern Senegal tomorrow. The communities are fairly widely spread, and as I drive out tomorrow I will certainly be thinking a lot about how the six very different meetings we had in the six different communities when we visited in December. This really drove home my boss’ (frequent) insistence that to implement an effective and sustainable waste management system it is most important to consider the specific needs of the community in question.

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Driving tour of northeastern Senegal from December 2016, week 1 in blue and week 2 in red! 

To give a bit of background on the project, the six communities are having landfills and transfer centers built to support door-to-door household waste collection programs. The primary purpose of our last trip was to collect information on the current waste management strategy in the communities which will be used to help build the community specific management plans for the new system. The communities involved in the project have populations from just under 15 000 to just over 100 000 inhabitants. The smallest of the communities actually has had the most success with waste management using initiatives such as incentives and recognition within the community to have the cleanest street and neighbourhood.

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One of the landfills which was built previously by our partners but never used, which will be fixed up and integrated into the new system in 2017.

It was interesting to see the contrast in issues in smaller communities vs. larger communities as well. In one of the smaller communities in particular we had a very warm reception and the representatives from the mayor’s office which we spoke with seemed very enthusiastic about making the system work efficiently but they were worried about getting all the big contracts in place for the project as they had not undertaken many projects this complex in the community. In one of the regional capitals on the other hand, they seemed very used to dealing in big contracts, but though they had designated representatives who were heavily involved and dedicated to the waste management system, it seemed as if the job of keeping track of all the different parts of the system was getting to be a bit hard for the those involved. At IAGU, we hope that the management plans which will accompany each of the communities new systems will help pull things together, paint a clear pictures of the system and help keep those who are involved on task.

One aspect which was present in all the communities was the presence of wild dump sites and unregulated landfills. These are places where community members dispose of waste directly or where waste is taken by formal or informal door-to-door collectors. There was however a large contrast between communities as to why these unregulated dumping groups had become so prevalent. In one of the larger communities that does have a designated landfill, the lack of regulation at the site lead to waste collectors who were trying to drop waste at the site becoming impatient while waiting to unload the waste. Instead of dumping waste in the landfill in an orderly fashion, if a truck was already at the site, some collectors began to get as close as they could and just empty their trucks on the side of the road leading to the landfill. As garbage which was dumped started making it harder to get down the road to the landfill, this caused a snowball effect and there are now large piles of garbage on a stretch of road about two kilometers long in the approach to the landfill. As this waste is not being disposed of properly and causes a health hazard if it is left on the side of the road, burning these piles has become a common practice, which has short and long term consequences due to resulting air pollution.

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Please back-up to reach landfill! Though the largest wild landfill in this community was recently cleaned up, mismanagement at this approved disposal site has resulted in truck drivers dumping waste along the road, which is burned to make space and to reduce short term health risks such as the presence of disease vectors in raw waste, but which creates dangerous smoke, inhaled by informal collectors and other community members as well as contributing to air pollution.

In another community in which many neighbourhoods are only accessible via dirt roads, the vehicle for pick-up was not chosen keeping the conditions during the rainy season in mind, when these roads get muddy and flooded. As it was too late to re-work the system once the rainy season arrived, the community was unable to continue collection in these neighbourhoods and informal collectors stepped in. As they do not have formal agreements bound by health and safety practices with the community, it is much more likely that informal collectors will create wild dump sites rather than take waste to the area designated for disposal by the community for reasons of convenience and proximity to pick-up locations. One of the things that IAGU is focusing on in the community specific manuals is plans for pickup broken down neighbourhood by neighbourhood using specific vehicles, whether motorized or pulled by a horse or donkey depending on which will suit the needs of the neighbourhood during both the dry and rainy season. It has been interesting to get a view of all the different aspects which come into play when planning a community wide system, and getting to hear the past experiences from these communities makes it easy to understand why the new system must be built keeping the existing system and limitations for each community in mind.

In terms of getting to see the country, traveling to these towns was a fairly neat opportunities as they are not in what you would typically classify as tourist locations and I probably would not have gone to these areas if not for this project. I got to peer across the Senegal River over the northern and eastern boarders (in Podor and Matam respectfully) at Mauritania. I took in the big sugar factory in Richard Toll which processes all the sugar cane grown in Senegal (the factory employs 300 workers, and the number of seasonal workers who harvest in the surrounding fields is certainly several times this) as well as the brand new solar farm, the largest in West Africa. I also got to see six camels wandering the fields on the side of the road and a cow on top of a bus. I drove through the colonial town and old capital St. Louis, and can understand why the French picked the location as it is where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic as well as drive by –and stop and buy from a couple different vendors really quick- the kilometer long stretch of vendors selling handmade woven baskets along the road in Thies. It isn’t very often that IAGU works on project that are so widely spread in the country, its projects are usually centered in the Dakar region and it was quite lucky that this project was ongoing during my internship. It is always interesting to get out of Dakar and looking forward to seeing some new sights in the coming week, and expand my road side baobab photo collection!

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Every baobab is different! I am interested to see the contrast in how these trees, which are found spread across many fields that line the highways in Senegal will look this coming week as we are two months further from the rainy season than my last trip. Plants in Dakar are looking pretty dry, and baobabs shed their leaves when there faced with a shortage of water.

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