How Sweden inspired and paved the way in managing Myanmar’s solid waste

May 23, 2019

It is just a few more weeks before the rainy season starts. When travelling through Myanmar you see everywhere a lot of garbage that is being dumped in the now dry drainage canals. All this will be washed into the sewage systems, the rivers and ultimately the sea during the monsoon if not properly taken care of. But the garbage, and notably the plastics, will also block the drainage system. Mon State, heavily affected by severe flooding last year, is no exception in this regard.

UNDP supports Mon state government to improve its solid waste management system from collection to dumpsite. The support kickstarted with a study tour to Sweden, a world leading country on solid waste management, to learn more about different options and solutions to handle waste. When back in Myanmar, the delegation from Mon State immediately started working by preparing a situational analysis of the waste situation in Mawlamyine and its 4 neighboring townships. The analysis show that only 35% of the waste is properly collected and then dumped at one of the 5 local open waste dumps. The other 65% ends up somewhere else, in drainage canals, in one of the many rivers in Mon state or - as the smoke you see and smell during early morning walks – it is burned at the side of the roads. The situation is not at all unique to Mon state, it is rather a normal praxis all over Myanmar.

But starting from this year, Mon State will be an exception as a dedicated task force of State government officials is working to change and improve the situation with technical assistance from UNDP. And the outlook is very promising. The dedicated leadership and commitment from the Chief Minister, H.E. Dr. Aye Zan, the Minister of Development Affairs, H.E. U Min Kyaw Lin and the State Secretary, U Hla Win Tin is instrumental and a decisive factor for success. Solid waste management and garbage collection requires an effective governance structure with clear responsibilities for the departments involved and, for the citizens. Collaboration, coordination and communication between different departments are therefore very important. It is amazing to see how the study tour to Sweden inspired and paved the way for the strong commitment from Mon state to be the first subnational government in Myanmar to have a fully-fledged masterplan for solid waste management in place by Mid 2019.

The targets are already set: closing of township dumpsites, the opening of a larger sanitary landfill, introduction of separation and composting and, above all: reaching 100% coverage of city cleaning and waste collection within 5 years.

A few years from now, the onset of rainy season may start without tons of waste being washed out in the rivers and sea of Myanmar.

Township Democratic Local Governance (TDLG)
The project is actively supporting democratic local governance by giving local people a voice to influence annual township planning and budgeting through elected representatives, being Hluttaw members, ward and village tract administrators and representatives from civil society organizations. The project contributes to the development of a democratic local governance policy framework for the Government of Myanmar to advance its decentralization agenda.