This is a preview of the new ISWA’s report “A Roadmap for Closing Waste Dumpsites, The World’s most Polluted Places”. ISWA reveals that only in seven moths (December 2015 – May 2016) there were at least 750 deaths related to dumpsites, collapse of waste collection systems and the relevant sanitation problems that were created! The report aims to support local and regional authorities to create roadmaps for closing their dumpsites . It includes the key-elements  for the required change and it has suggestions and tips for managing the social, the governance, the financial and the technical challenges.

Alarming Signals

In 2013, the Waste Atlas report about the 50 biggest dumpsites in the world revealed that they affect the lives of almost 65 million people, a population the size of France. In 2015, the GWMO report estimated that at least 2 billion people do not have access to regular waste collection and they are served by dumpsites. In 2015, the Wasted Health report highlighted that that exposure to open dumpsites has a greater detrimental impact on a population’s life expectancy than malaria and that in addition to human/environmental impact, the financial cost of open dumpsites runs into the tens of billions of USD.

If those references are not enough to persuade everyone of the importance of the health and environmental impacts posed by dumpsites, have a look at this indicative collection of recent incidents (it is mentioned that this is just what has been published in the international press, the actual incidents and accidents are probably much more and the chronic diseases involved unaccountable).

  • December 2015: A dumpsite landslide killed 73 people and left four others missing in Shenzhen, China, in December 20. The accident on Dec. 20 destroyed 33 buildings with direct economic losses at 880 million yuan (132 million USD).
  • January 2016: According to Zimbabwe’s 2015 statistics, released by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, diarrhoea accounted for 502-recorded deaths and 521,573 treated cases across the country. In epidemiology, it is well established that all diarrhoeal diseases are regarded as environmental diseases, which are those that can be directly attributed to environmental factors, especially with water pollution due to poor waste management. They are also known as diseases of poverty because they affect poor communities more than the wealthier ones. Many local environmentalists point to poor waste management as the major cause of these diseases.
  • February 2016: At the beginning of February 2016, a big fire started in Deonar, Mumbai’s 132 hectares dumpsite that receives 4,000 tons of waste per day. The smoke emitted was so thick that it blotted out the sun and the relevant health risks for the neighbouring residents were high. The fire was so big and intense that it was also visible from space, as seen on NASA’s released satellite images.
  • February 2016: A yellow fever outbreak in Angola (that began at the end of 2015) killed 158 people in February 2016, as deaths from the disease transmitted by mosquitoes accelerate, according a World Health Organization official. According to local health officials, there has also been an increase in malaria, cholera and chronic diarrhoea in Luanda and other cities, partly due to a breakdown in sanitation services and rubbish collection. The situation was worsened as soon as the rainy season began as heavy storms wash discarded waste and contaminated water into supplies used for washing and drinking.
  • March 2016: In Jamaica, thick, noxious smoke blanketed Jamaica’s capital on Thursday March 12th, as a wind-fanned fire burned at a sprawling, open-air waste dump on the city’s outskirts that has seen repeated blazes. Schools closed and the government advised residents to stay indoors and close windows. Before this incident, the last major fire at the dump, in April 2014, burned for nearly two weeks and sent an increased number of people with respiratory distress to health clinics.
  • April 2016: In India, the mammoth ticking garbage bombs of Ghazipur and Bhalswa landfills are spewing toxic gases by the minute into Delhi’s already foul air because the national capital does not have a proper waste management system. On April 22nd, locals say that Bhalswa has been simmering like a volcano for decades. The recent fire in New Delhi’s dumpsite created serious air pollution incidents to India’s capital. According to other sources, the biogas trapped beneath makes Ghazipur dumpsite, which also serves New Delhi, a ticking time bomb.
  • April 2016: In Guatemala City, a massive dumpsite landslide killed four people on April 26th. At least 24 more people were missing. Almost all of them were informal recyclers. This happened at the Guatemala City garbage dump, the largest dump in all of Central America & certainly one of the most notorious in the world, where at least 7,000 people, including children, work from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year collecting plastic, metal, & other recyclables to resell.
  • May 2016: In Spain, just 50 km from Madrid, on May 12th 2016, a fire at an illegal dumpsite with 75,000 tons of used tyres created such a thick toxic fume that clouds of thick black smoke could be seen for 20 miles. Despite the efforts of the firefighters to contain the fire (something that seemed to be managed 3 days later) the authorities ordered the evacuation of the Quinon de Sesena area, where 9,000 people live, saying human health might be at risk.

The list above could be much longer, but definitely it is indicative of the problems involved. All the relevant evidence makes clear that:

  • Dumpsites are a global health emergency that needs urgent and coordinated response.
  • The problem concerns both the currently used dumpsites (mostly, but not exclusively, in the developing world) and the historical dumpsites that were in use (in developed and developing countries).”

You can find the press release here and the full report here.

This report has been prepared as a part of ISWA’s Scientifc and Technical Committee Work- Program 2015-2016. It is a collective work of the following team: Antonis Mavropoulos (ISWA STC Chair, CEO of D-Waste), Peter Cohen (Social Development Consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank), Derek Greedy (Member of ISWA’s Landfill Working Group, waste management consultant), Sifis Plimakis (Research fellow at the National Centre for Public Performance – Rutgers University), Luís Marinheiro (Chair of ISWA’s Landfill Working Group, waste management consultant), James Law (Vice-Chair of ISWA’s Landfill Working Group, SCS Engineers) and Ana Loureiro (Member of ISWA’s Working Group on Communication and Social Issues). The great photos of Timothy Bouldry have substantially advanced this report. Timothy is a photographer and activist that has been photographing, exploring and educating people about dumpsites and the people who live in them, for several years.


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