|Rami Salem with Jeff Cooper (left), Chairman of the UK ISWA National Committee, and John Skidmore (right), CIWM President, during the RWM in Birmingham.|
For decades, The MENA region has been suffering from a dramatic increase in solid waste quantities due to the economic growth and urbanization. According to a study conducted for ten countries in the MENA region by SWEEP-Net team, solid waste quantities are expected to exceed 200 MTs a year with a prediction that the total waste quantities arising from the MENA region is 2 BTs a year. More importantly, collecting and processing of waste will cost local authorities 20-25% of their total annual budget.
Solid Waste Management system in the MENA suffers a lack of institutional and legal frameworks; current practices are defined in terms of “cleanliness” with very limited attention to sustainable approaches (i.e. the waste hierarchy), the absence of sufficient fund and financial incentives to encourage investors, the lack of collaboration between stakeholders, and the shortage of skilled professionals. All these factors are considered serious obstacles to the implementation of an integrated waste management strategy in the MENA.
The solid waste management in the MENA region is in urgent need of being addressed by both local and regional levels in order to prevent further deterioration in the environment and financial loss by missing such an opportunity. However, an integrated waste management system geared to conserving resources needs solutions that are tailored to each individual country. There is currently no formal, structured exchange of experience on this in the MENA region. To the contrary, various public and private sector actors are searching individually for technical, financial and organizational solutions.
The Recycling and Waste Management RWM exhibition offers a unique opportunity to address these issues by bringing together all sources of technology and experience in one place. In the RWM 2013, more than 750 exhibitors presented the latest products and technologies related to waste management industry, 200 expert speakers came to share their knowledge, experience and success stories to promote sustainable concepts in waste management, an amazing chance to meet face-to-face with many potential suppliers, customers, partners, and collaborators. The RWM exhibition provides a unique source of knowledge, creative ideas and solutions for the public, it even highlights the role of 3rd sector and how public should response effectively to be part of the development process in this industry.
During my stay in Birmingham, I have met experts from various disciplines related to waste management services. They were all informative and willing to face new challenges by entering the MENA’s market. I strongly believe that RWM provides a platform to any policy maker interested to make a significant start.
The MENA Region has its own climatic, cultural and socio-economic conditions. This makes European approaches and experiences tackling solid waste challenges only partially applicable to the MENA environment. However, European experience, which are shared with regions outside Europe, help guide the ability to develop new approaches which can then be applied to countries in the MENA region always bearing in mind the local circumstances.
Finally, No one can ignore the political and social challenges which are currently taking place in the MENA region as it is called the “Arab Spring”. There is an overarching consensus that the political instability prevents any progress. In addition to this, some countries are considered as war zones and produce significant quantities of solid waste and debris in addition to hazardous waste. Therefore, some parts of the region should be addressed in a special way. During the RWM, I met Martin Bjerregaard, director of Disaster Waste Recovery - non-profit organization supporting communities with waste and debris management following disasters and conflicts. Mr. Bjerregaard summarizes the challenges facing MENA countries as follow;
- The absence of effective waste management systems in post-disaster territories could cause significant environmental and health risks for refugees.
- The damage caused to the facilities during turmoil and military interventions.
- Significant quantities of debris need to be managed properly in order to prevent any delay in the reconstruction phase.
Mr Bjerregaard confidently expressed his own thoughts that the MENA region has the advantage of learning from similar cases in order to intervene positively to improve the solid waste management sector in the MENA. He also suggested considering further sessions covering disaster waste management in future events to provide a platform to discuss and develop plans before a potential disaster occurs.
[i] Recycling & Waste Management exhibition (RWM) is an annual event for resource efficiency and waste management solutions. Established in 1967, the event is highly regarded in the recycling and waste industry as the leading event in its field.
[ii] Rami Salem is waste management consultant with a focus on post-conflict zones and developing countries. He is the founder of "Zero Waste MENA". Mr. Salem has a bachelor degree in Civil Engineering and a Master in Environmental Management & Technology from Oxford Brookes University (UK). Mr. Salem is currently a PhD candidate Cambridge University conducting hybrid-LCA of Household food waste treatment technologies.