Our Perspectives

Managing the refuse of the refused


waste management in TurkeyLooking at current waste management practices in the town of Elbeyli, Turkey. Photo: Alpert K. Doğan

Imagine yourself as the mayor of a small border province in Southeastern Anatolia five years ago.

It is a big day for you. After years of petitions, meetings, and a heavy financial burden you are about to open a sanitary landfill site to serve your community for at least 25 years. You and your team are proud to make a lasting contribution both to the community and environment. You are reading about the events in neighboring Syria but hopeful that the conflict will end soon. Your heart is with them, as you think maybe of the distant relatives of yours living in Aleppo.

Then refugees begin to arrive. First in a trickle, then a flow. Camps are erected, and you do your best to fulfill basic needs and cooperate with relevant government offices. You feel a little bit tired, but satisfied knowing that you’re helping out a neighbour in need.

Fast-forward four years: There hundreds of thousands of refugees now residing in your tiny city, some camps now accommodate over 30,000 people. Every day you receive more complaints about municipal services. Waste and litter is everywhere, your few vehicles are constantly on the road, personnel are overwhelmed, your new sanitary landfill site is full, and your wastewater processing facility is well over its capacity. You are out of cash, and starting into debt.

You can’t help but notice now how your city is on the brink of collapse. You can’t help but notice how much your community has changed.

As the crisis in Syria enters its sixth year, Turkey is accommodating more than two million Syrian refugees.  One of the urgent challenges facing our host communities in the east is about how to manage the solid waste.

Commissioned by UNDP to help create a waste management scheme for this setup, my team has – with the support of the European Union and United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration - come up with a viable project to ease the burden.

A recycling programme will be implemented at select camps within Şanlıurfa and Kilis along with waste transfer station equipment installation and the supply of necessary vehicles. The aim is to reduce the costs associated with the six neighboring camps, which host over 113,000 people. We also hope to assist the local host community lay the foundations of a modern and sustainable integrated waste management scheme.

After spending weeks in the field assessing the situation and analyzing solid waste composition, I have met numerous people: from government and municipal officials to cleaning crews, from camp administrators to refugees. Jointly, we have managed to create a working model that will bring this unique range of stakeholders together.

Never before in my career have I seen just how important the human element will be for the success of a waste management scheme. Never before have I seen a waste management project with greater social potential for social good.

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