- By Bijay Karmacharya, the Country Programme Manager of UN-Habitat, Myanmar
Urbanization is a complex global human phenomenon. We are in a new stage of human history where more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. In the early twentieth century, only 20 per cent of the global population lived in cities. Today, this figure has exceeded 55 per cent and predictions for the next 30 years suggest that it will rise to 70 per cent.
Most of the rapid urbanization is taking place in developing nations. In Myanmar, 29% of its people lives in urban areas. Yangon city houses 5.2 million, followed by 2.1 million in Mandalay and 400,000 in Nay Pyi Taw. Myanmar is in an early stage of its urbanization compared to its South East Asian neighbors.
As urbanization increases, cities face increasing waste management crisis. Environmental sanitation and public health challenges are invited by waste management failure in the cities. Globally, cities produce 7-10 billion tonnes of solid, liquid, domestic, industrial and commercial waste every year. Unless urgent actions are taken by reducing, reusing, recycling and rethinking waste management in cities, global waste is expected to grow by 70 per cent on current levels by 2050.
Waste management remains a daunting task, which must be handled with a holistic waste management approach. There is a pressing call for proper management of waste with an innovative approach in order to maintain environmental sanitation that is suitable for human living.
Waste management has been attracting increasing attention and has featured prominently in discussions on the Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda, as well as the Paris Agreement.
Agenda 2030, the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement all consider waste management as an urgent and critical issue that must be addressed to ensure future prosperity and sustainability of our planet. In this regard, frontier technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), ICT, robotics, renewable energy technologies and biotechnologies can play a key role in innovating waste management globally, in addition to practical and appropriate techniques that are tested and proven in the context of developing nations like Myanmar.
According to the World Economic and Social Survey 2018 by the United Nations, frontier technologies hold enormous potential to improve how people work and live. They will also significantly accelerate efforts to achieve the SDGs and address climate change.
As the world marks the “World Habitat Day” on 7th of October this year with the theme “Frontier Technologies as an Innovative Tool to Transform Waste to Wealth”, UN-Habitat is advocating for the use of innovative and appropriate technologies for sustainable waste management to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11: inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.
In general, cities’ waste management system in developing countries face challenges in terms of operations and management, from collection to transportation, intermediate treatment and final disposal of wastes. The poor waste management in cities because of a range of social, economic and institutional constraints have not only been causing environmental pollution and negatively influencing public health through soil and water contamination, air pollution, but also impacting on global climate, biodiversity and ecological health. Open landfill sites are a huge source of methane gas emission, contributing significantly to climate change. Innovative technologies and appropriate techniques will help in managing waste effectively.
In Myanmar, it is estimated that an average of 11.3 million tonnes of waste are generated every year and approximately 55 per cent of total generated waste in the country is coming from the three major cities: Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. The city of Yangon, with its consumption pattern and rapid population and economic growth, has been experiencing unprecedented volume of solid waste that needs to reach the dumpsite daily. It is estimated that 2500 tonnes of waste is produced in Yangon, of which 60% reaches the largest dumpsite in Htein Bin. This dumpsite suffered a major fire outbreak last year. The need of a proper solid waste management system with an appropriate technology has become an urgent need in the city.
In order to address these challenges at the national and city levels, the Government of Myanmar rolled out the “National Waste Management Strategy and Action Plan for Myanmar (2017-2030)” with a mission “to develop and implement the holistic and integrated waste management strategy based on principles of inclusiveness, zero waste, zero emission and circular economy to achieve a greener, cleaner and healthier environment in Myanmar”. Despite the government’s effort to combat the waste issue, there still is a need of sustainable systems which can go beyond visible cleanliness.
Frontier technologies are not yet widely acknowledged and used in Myanmar. However, the steps forward for the initiative of “waste to wealth” should be taken through innovative tools to retain values from waste by effectively managing them and promoting environmentally sound waste disposal.
UN-Habitat is working with Yangon city in a technology and knowledge transfer project for solid waste management in Htein Bin Dumpsite. A tested and proven appropriate technology called “Fukuoka Method” is being implemented with the technical cooperation from Fukuoka city of Japan.
The Fukuoka Method is an innovative landfill technology that uses a semi-aerobic method of decomposition of solid waste. The semi-aerobic landfill design helps leachate to drain swiftly from waste and thus, allowing to faster decomposition of waste, improving quality of the waste water and reducing emissions of methane. The Fukuoka Method is accredited as Clean Development Mechanism by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
This project aims decompose waster faster and reduces the production of greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to longer life of the dumpsite and reducing impact on climate. The project promotes segregation of plastic materials at the source as well as at the dumpsite and helps the private sector to engage in recycling of the plastics.
UN-Habitat Myanmar, with the aim to transfer the appropriate technology, Fukuoka Method, expects to contribute to reduce the risk of future fire hazards and to manage the landfill site in a sustainable manner. This low-cost and eco-friendly method will also reduce pollutants from leachate in the landfill site which will improve the environmental condition of the area and reduce methane production under the dump. In the pursuit of effective waste management, UN-Habitat works with the city in rethinking “Waste to Wealth” in the entire waste management cycle.