When saving lives during disasters, transporting food and water takes center stage, but managing and disposing of waste is equally important. If not given proper attention, solid and liquid waste can fast become a health hazard in affected communities. With the chaos that comes after emergencies, it is critical that waste be disposed of safely and properly.
When typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters occur, a lot of waste is already generated. We often see fallen trees, boulders and mud blocking roads, in addition to rubble from man-made structures like houses and buildings. Clearing operations often take place to ensure that roads are passable and safe for rescue teams and the delivery of much-needed supplies. In addition to the debris, waste generated from food packaging can pile up fast especially in evacuation centres.
SOME MATERIALS THAT MAY BE CLASSIFIED AS SOLID WASTE AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS HAVE OCCURRED:
1. Fallen trees, tree trunks, branches, palm leaves
2. Rubble and debris from damaged infrastructure such as steel, concrete, wood and bricks
3. Mud, ash, rocks
4. Electric lines, poles and cables
5. Garbage from food and water such as plastic water bottles, packaging and leftover food
If there is no existing waste-disposal site, a temporary area that is safe and far away from evacuation sites and human settlements should be designated for the piling of solid waste. Communal pits can also serve this purpose. Rubble and debris can be sorted, some of it can still be used, such as metal sheeting and wood.
When selecting the type of vehicle to be used to transport solid waste, things like generation rates and densities need to be considered. Routes are also important along with the distance between collection and disposal areas or dumping sites, be they temporary or permanent.
Local people also play an important role in managing waste in emergencies. Victims of natural disasters can help in keeping their own environment safe and sanitary. They can engage in clean-up operations, as focusing on tasks is one way of dealing with the trauma that natural disasters often inflict on people. This can also boost morale as they are directly engaged in improving their homes and communities.
Proper waste management can help keep away flies, dogs, snakes and other scavengers that have the potential to spread disease. Used medical supplies like syringes should also be disposed of properly.
SOME OF THE RISKS THAT CAN ARISE FROM DISASTER WASTE ARE:
1. Nuisance from the stench from decomposing waste materials
2. Disease and bacterial infection from animals and vermin that scavenge through garbage piles
3. Direct contact with hazardous chemicals such as pesticides and acids
4. Cuts, scratches and abrasions from sharp objects
Written by : Judith Garcia Meese