The new UNRWA Strategy for Solid Waste Management in West Bank

In November 2017, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, has finalized the 2018-2023 strategy for solid waste management in West Bank refugee camps. The strategy has been developed with Cesvi technical support. Indeed, Cesvi is currently supporting UNRWA work also in Shu’fat and Nur Shams refugee camps.

During a preliminary stage, UNRWA and Cesvi examined the situation in the 19 refugee camps of the West Bank, through interviews to the camps’ Sanitation Foremen, Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and other institutions’ representatives. The data collected through the assessment helped to identify the challenges to address in the UNRWA West Bank Field Operational Solid Waste Management Strategy, which can be downloaded here.

For a better understanding of the strategy, we asked some questions to Elena Lovat, Cesvi’s technical advisor for UNRWA.

Q: Can you describe the life conditions of the people living in a West Bank refugee camp?

 A: Each camp has different features: some are markedly overcrowded, others have a lower population density. However, the infrastructures’ need of improvement is a common feature. Housing units are often crumbling, while the sewer, hydraulic and electric systems’ conditions do not allow the regular provision of the related services. In those camps located close to Israeli settlements, there also is a problem of accessibility to resources: in summer, water-shortage is a serious matter.

Camps’ residents live in a violent and tense environment: during the night, they can experience Israeli military raids. Violence is part of their daily life, and children grow up witnessing this kind of scenes.

Q: Which environmental issues are faced by the population? Which is the impact of waste production on the residents’ life quality?

A: Environmental conditions in the camps are very critical. The situation is challenged by the difficult management of solid waste collection and disposal. The general lack of environmental awareness of refugees is part of the problem, being the source of harmful misbehaviors, such as: littering – pouring out on the roads and infiltrate the sewer system – and waste combustion, a very dangerous practice for people health.

In West Bank refugee camps, UNRWA is in charge of managing the waste collection services free of charge as an extension of their mandate regarding public health. The Agency offers a regular service, but the methods used are often obsolete due to lack of funding: for instance, waste is collected through carts pushed by hand. Therefore, UNRWA recently decided to improve the provision of services by consulting other organizations. This is what is happening with Cesvi in Shu’fat and Nur Shams refugee camps.

Q: Let’s talk about the Strategy developed by UNRWA with Cesvi’s support: which are the main pillars? Is there any innovative aspect you would highlight?

R: The strategy for Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank is the result of a positive collaboration between UNRWA and Cesvi. The strategy is part of a wider process, as UNRWA already developed strategic plans for Jordan and Lebanon. Moreover, UNRWA recently started to deal with the issue in Gaza.

The strategy aims to upgrade solid waste storage in the camps through the distribution of households bins; it foresees the introduction of mechanical vehicles for the collection phase and optimize the transfer to landfills – at the moment only two landfills serve the whole West Bank –, ensuring that the collection points are not used as discharge sites also for the people not living in the camps.

For this context, the most innovative aspects are: the creation of a database for monitoring waste disposal; the provision of general indications for medical waste disposal; the enhancement of sanitation laborers’ working conditions and the definition of an action plan for waste collection during emergencies.

Q: How important in the strategy are the awareness and prevention components? Is the recycle issue touched on?

A: Awareness comes through education activities prepared for students. In each camp there are between two and four schools; discussion with the schools’ directors raised the interest for including seminars and initiatives on environmental issues in the school programs, with specific focus on waste disposal. Working with students is important also because it allows establishing a communication channel with parents: during community open events, students can involve families to share their own achievements.

In general, communicating with the population is very important and any communication should be bidirectional. In this respect, the strategy foresees a key aspect: beneficiaries will be able to contact a call-center and give a feedback.

On the recycle promotion side, the situation is complex: although awareness activities go also in this direction, in the West Bank there are not enough facilities for waste recycling and it is not possible to promote large scale separate collection activities. Currently, recyclable waste is collected by the informal sector and brought to the existing recycling facilities in Israel. Thus, it has been decided to allow recycling initiatives in the camps if promoted by other institutions or enterprises (internal or external to the camps): if such initiatives will be successful, the system will be better organized, taking into account what was effective and what can be improved.

Q: Which benefits do you think the strategy implementation can bring to the population, in the future?

A: The application of this strategy aims at having long term benefits, as the number of proposed interventions is significant. One of the results we hope can be achieved is health protection for the camps’ population: by increasing the efficiency accelerate waste collection, negative practices as waste dumps and combustion might be discouraged. The sanitary conditions of the roads should improve, the air should become healthier and the environment cleaner. Sanitation workers, provided with adequate equipment and vehicles, will work in safer conditions and will be able to collect more waste in less time. The optimization of the working time will possibly allow to reduce the cost of the service.

Finally, the strategy aims at enhancing the life conditions of about 250,000 people, i.e. the current refugee population in Palestinian camps in the West Bank.

Q: And from a personal point of view, which are your expectations?

A: I would like the strategy to be fully implemented. The conditions in the camps are critical: working in continuity with UNRWA is key to collect the first results. In order to allow this to happen we need to rely on a larger funds availability. UNRWA is hoping to actively start fundraising around the strategy in the first half of 2018.


In photo: Askar refugee camp