>Friday – Kissy Dumpsite #sierraleone

>Having visited the works yards we went to the second of Freetown’s dumpsites.

Kissy is in the east of the city and is along the main route out of Freetown. It’s not far from the works yards which are also located in this part of the city.

It’s similar to Kingtom but probably worse. Kingtom has been created on an area of flat land through the middle of which a road runs. In the wet season half of the site is given over to farming because the land is not stable enough to cope with vehicles. Despite the lack of any earth moving equipment to keep the piles under control or the absence of any sorting it works, after a fashion.

At Kissy there was more evidence of people scavenging from the sites and people living along the border of the site. There were the remains of a broken Caterpillar slowly getting covered in waste. There was no sign of the road that had been built two years ago. This was a site built on a hill so when they’d built the road they had built it at a gradient. As the waste accumulated it became harder and harder to pass, harder and harder for vehicles to get back from the bottom and so the waste was dumped closer and closer to the road.

Now the situation is that they can’t drive onto the dump. So it’s entirely blocked from any new waste being dumped there. The result is they’ve started a third dump somewhere else where there was a whole.

During this visit we heard that a perfect location has been identified by the World Bank, somewhere that the waste could be properly managed and the landfill engineered well away from the residential areas it currently juts up against. Of course there’s nothing to guarantee that people won’t encroach upon that piece of land, or scavenge for whatever they can lay their hands on. But even before that becomes an issue there are a number of hurdles to overcome. One of the key obstacles is the logistics of the thing.

And that comes back to Freetown’s roads.

This third site is down the road between Hastings and Waterloo. So it fits the bill for being out of town. It isn’t near a water course and it could be engineered from scratch. However, it’s hard enough for the 7 working vehicles to service the 45 transit sites and include regular trips to Kissy or Kingtom. For them to have to add an out of town excursion to that means more time sat in traffic, more strain on the vehicles, less time actually collecting the rubbish.

And then there’s the economic ecosystem that lives off the existing sites. In the vacuum that had been left by waste no longer being filled at the farthest limits of the site there had been a lot of encroachment (this is the point being made at the beginning of the video). This is one of the hardest things to fathom about our time in Freetown – it’s not just a dump, it’s a home, a source of income, a source of food and a social space. The images of kids playing with kites, of parents carrying babies around, of whole lives found living on the edges is harrowing and difficult. We don’t want people to be living on a landfill site but the reality is that this is a crucial slice of the economy in a city where there aren’t exactly an abundance of different ways to make money. Perhaps a properly engineered landfill could see waste being sorted and might enable stuff to be retrieved without having to pick through the detritus of the city but it’s likely that won’t cushion the fall out and the repercussions on those lives we catch sight of in this video.

>Friday – Freetown City Council works yard #sierraleone

>After our tour round the Freetown Waste Management Company’s (FWMC) depot we moved next door to take a look at the council’s yard. Until recently the two sites operated independently with FWMC acting as a stand alone private business commissioned by FCC to deliver waste collection for Freetown. A degree of separation remains but the two entities are more closely entwined, at least for now (the council seem desperate to outsource it as quickly as possible).

It transpires that FWMC have not been handling all waste collection. Do you remember the night gabbage collection at the market with the two lads perched precariously at the back of a lorry? The central market areas were the responsibility of the council to look after and to help them in doing that Hull City Council had sent three Vultures about six years ago. At the yard we saw evidence of all three but only one of them was in working order. The others had been cannibalised for parts to keep the others going. Now the final vehicle was struggling to keep going and FWMC had been press ganged into making sure the market didn’t drown under rubbish.

However, the highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the sweeper. Earlier in the day when Doug Sharp and Bowenson Phillips had been on Lunchtime Break a viewer had texted a question to ask what had become of Freetown’s infamous road sweeper. And we were privileged enough to get a photo taken alongside the folly of a former mayor.

Apparently, the story goes, the mayor acquired the sweeper for 500,000,000 Sierra Leone Leones (that’s something like £80,000), a massive outlay for the city. It arrived with much fanfare about six years ago but worked for about half a day. The reason for it sitting dormant in the yard is unclear – someone suggested there was a skills gap in using it that meant the brushes could not be raised and as a result this damaged it, someone else said it was a question of parts but the overwhelming consensus was that the mayor had made completely the wrong decision in getting hold of a vehicle designed for evenly paved, properly made roads in a city where surfaces like that are not exactly common. Questions were raised over the cost of the vehicle and whether there had been a discount on it, or whether it had been given for free but nevertheless, as word of this waste of FCC funds got out the mayor was hounded out of the city in shame. Emerson, one of Sierra Leone’s leading musical artists and well known for the political sparring of his lyrics even penned a song about the debacle.

At least we might be able to put to bed the rumour that the vehicle has been heavily cannibalised. But to the naked eye most of it looked to be in pristine condition. The problem is that the vehicle is completely inappropriate for Freetown’s needs.

>Friday – Freetown Waste Management Company works yard #sierraleone

>Friday began with rain, and lots of it, but by the time we arrived at the Freetown Waste Management Company’s (FWMC) depot the sun was shining and the ground was dry.

The tour of the works yard was fascinating. Led from one constraint to another by the clearly very capable Foday Fornah we saw the Freetown equivalent to Hull’s Dalton Street depot. It would be more appropriate to think of it in terms of a graveyard holding the remains of both vehicles and strategic ideas.

I mentioned in a previous post that Hull has something like 60 vehicles for 117,000 households. These five vehicles account for about 40% of FWMC’s total vehicular strength. That’s to service the waste requirements of 2.5m people. And each of the ones in that picture, as well as another one elsewhere in the depot are in need of repairs placing an ever increasing burden on the vehicles that are working (well, they are for now).

We also saw the carcasses of the two earth moving vehicles that had, once upon a time, kept Kingtom and Kissy under control. Broken down, cannibalised for parts and now just left to rot.

In one corner were the yellow handcarts that had once been used by Klin Salone and other social enterprises to devolve the responsibility of collecting the waste still further. To enthusiastic youths who could collect the garbage and earn money from householders whilst FWMC gave them the tools and disposed of the waste. Because there were reports that some of them were taking money from householders and then dumping the waste round the corner rather than at the agreed sites meant this idea was knocked on the head. And so they sit in the corner of the works yard.

Elsewhere are the remains of these bins. The idea was simple – get some bins, go to retail businesses and charge them a monthly fee for locating the bins on their premises and FWMC will clear the garbage on a regular basis. Not only a way of generating some revenue but a further way of sensitising the Freetown population to use bins where they’re provided.

Unfortunately, as you can see, they’re completely unsuitable – made from a material that has rusted, without lids and not strong enough to stand the pressures they might have been subjected to. Nobody would pay to have bins like this on their premises. Chalk this one up to the ‘former management’.

Given the road network of Freetown and the fact that it’s not just streets of houses the solution isn’t as simple as providing a fleet of waste compacting vehicles like we would have here. In fact, the way in which waste is being moved from house, to central point, to dump, is an effective principal. So it was a good idea to look at the hand carts and think that a similar role could be met by providing motorised tricycles that could take waste from one site to another. On the Thursday evening we’d seen them in action in the city centre but, once again, the utility of these approaches is let down by the fact there’s more to go wrong. Of something like 20 vehicles, only 8 are in service.

We also had a look inside the stores – we saw some spare parts for the vehicles, and a few tyres and a collection of different bins including the familiar wheelie bins (without the wheels). Apparently they’re keen to experiment with these bins but the unit cost of approximately $150 was a barrier. This is in contrast to the £30 cost of a bin to us in Hull. As part of our new waste strategy we recently replaced 140 litre blue bins with larger capacity 240 litre ones. They’ve all been recycled now but could we have usefully sent them here instead? Obviously there’s a total cost to be worked out for shipping from here to there and it raises the contentious issue of #SWEDOW (‘Stuff We Don’t Want’) but that’s a debate for a blog of its own.

That’s an attempt to distil the more important issues identified on our visit to the works yard but you’d really miss out if you didn’t get it from Foday Fornah himself. There’s a lot of info in these four videos and apologies that neither sound or camerawork is necessarily perfect but it beat taking notes!

>Thursday – Night Gabbage #sierraleone

>As I mentioned in the first post for Thursday Freetown is a city that never sleeps when it comes to waste management.

Throughout the day the city centre is both a hive of activity (this short video captures some of it) and a congested mass of vehicles. Either way it makes waste collection difficult during the day. The solution is to work through the night to get on top of the waste situation ahead of the following day.

To do this Freetown Waste Management Company (FWMC) and Freetown City Council (FCC) deploy a number of techniques.

First of all are the sweepers. They’re generally women and their task is to sweep the streets and pile up the rubbish.

Then there are those who collect that rubbish and bring it to agreed transit points, generally using one of the 7 or 8 motorised tricycles that FWMC have in operation.

One of the waste vehicles will have been parked at an agreed location and then begins the process of taking the waste off the back of a tricycle, dumping it on the ground behind the vehicle and then transferring it into the lorry. The compactor will then run in the period between tricycles. When it’s full it will go to Kingtom or Kissy and the whole thing will start again.

It is no surprise that the most common faults with the vehicles relate to clutch and starter motor. The vehicles are Mercedes, the nearest stockist is in Guinea and there is no way of getting non-branded equivalent parts meaning that the upkeep and maintenance of the vehicles is almost impossible for the FWMC works team (but more of that later).

The markets are dealt with slightly differently. Six years ago Hull City Council sent 3 ‘vultures’ that were coming out of service to Sierra Leone (there’s a ‘Stuff We Don’t Want’ debate to be visited with regards everything we saw over the last week). FCC controlled these throughout the period of time that the FWMC was in charge of waste. These vehicles were used by the council to keep the market areas tidy. Only one of them is still in service and that had broken down.

So, when we went out on the night collection we saw some pretty precarious activity in the market where waste had begun to pile up in amongst the various food and non-food stalls. You can see from the pictures what the solution was: a big lorry and a two wheeled cart to stand on…

>Thursday – Kingtom #sierraleone

>Kingtom was known to me from my previous visit to Sierra Leone. It was where I’d spent my first nights in country. But I didn’t venture near the dump.

Freetown has two. There’s one at Kissy and there’s this one at Kingtom. It’s in the heart of the city and borders a water course. It’s far removed from how we manage landfill here.

For starters people can roam freely. Whilst they’re not supposed to, it hasn’t stopped people building homes, scavenging for reusable materials or even indulging in a little bit of agriculture. In fact, when it comes to using the landfill as temporary farmland that’s a source of revenue for the Freetown Waste Management Company/Freetown City Council.

Add to that the absence of measuring the waste that comes in. There’s no earth moving equipment to keep on top of the garbage. This means that during the rainy season only half the site is safe to use (hence providing the opportunity for agriculture). Lorries come right into the dump, drive onto the rubbish and choose somewhere to dump it without any sorting.

We weren’t sure who was staff but we came to the conclusion that if they had wellies then that probably meant they were legitimate. However, that was the extent of protective equipment. As medical waste is treated in the same way as everything else that places these men, women and children at huge risk of needle stick injuries.

On the up side the road that ran through it was amongst the best in Freetown…

>Thursday – Transit Sites #sierraleone

>Here’s a retrospective look at the week we spent in Sierra Leone. A blow by blow account of each day. As you might expect, that’s going to involve a lot of looking at rubbish!

Day one, Thursday saw us meeting with the Chief Administrator of Freetown City Council (FCC), Bowenson Philips and put together an idea of what we would look at for the rest of the week. We spent some time with Freetown’s elected members and then we headed off to learn about how a city of 2.5m deals with the rubbish it produces.

Waste is once again the responsibility of FCC. For the last few years the issue of waste was handled by an independent, arms length company created by the World Bank called Freetown Waste Management Company (FWMC). Now that the direct involvement of the World Bank has come to an end without FWMC being in a position to operate independently it has been brought back ‘in-house’ (although the noises from FCC suggested they were in favour of returning to a commissioned service as soon as possible). Donald Tweed, the head of FWMC, took us to see how things worked. The first things we saw were two ‘transit sites’.

These are places in the city which are agreed points for dumping garbage. The council’s ‘fleet’ of waste compactor lorries then roams the streets of the city (almost continuously) going from transit site to transit site where it is then transferred from its holding bays into the back of the lorries. When they’re full they go to one of two dumps to be emptied.

Essentially this means that all waste is handled three times. You have those who are collecting waste from households, or businesses, or stall holders. Some of those are employees of FWMC, some are social entrepreneurs whose payment comes from those whose waste they collect. Either way their rubbish is dumped at these 40 odd transit sites. Freetown Waste Management Company then come along, empty the transit sites onto the ground, and shift it all into the back of the waste compacting vehicles.

FWMC had enjoyed working with the youth enterprises that were collecting waste and had provided them with the yellow carts you can see in the videos and the pictures. However, some of them had begun taking payment from householders to collect waste but were then choosing to dump it wherever they liked rather than at the transit sites. As a result FWMC were collecting the carts back in (and you can see evidence of this at the works yard).

Immediately we came up against the difficulties Freetown faces in getting waste off the streets. Although there was some evidence of sorting pretty much all the waste is lumped together. This includes medical waste as well as the high proportion of organic material sent to landfill. The strain this places on the city is compounded by a lack of vehicles to service a city of this size. In Hull, we have about 60 of these vehicles for 117,000 households all of whom receive a doorstep collection. Freetown has 10, not all of which work. Moreover, they’re lorries designed for door to door collection and that’s not really what Freetown needs.

Ideas were already forming about how processes might be improved. One of the suggestions was that it would be possible to increase the speed with which waste was collected by using front loading vehicles like the one picture above. However, it may well speed up the collection of waste and reduce the number of staff required but vehicles like that cost in excess of £100,000.

>Hull-Freetown Good Practice Scheme

>My arrival in local government was more by accident than design. After finishing my History degree I decided I wanted to throw myself into serving other people and help rebuild war-torn countries and work in international development.

So I did an MA at York’s Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit and that included great discussions with various professionals on the course as well as those teaching us. We went on a group research trip to Lebanon (during the Parliamentary sit-in) and I researched my dissertation in Sierra Leone.

It was a fantastic year. The people I met and the discussions we had offered an incredible opportunity to learn as well as to reflect that, again, most good practice is effectively sound theology (I have a number of partially completed blog posts exploring this which I will get round to completing, one day).

However, by the end of it I had reached two personal conclusions:
1 – that the most inspirational people I met, the people whose jobs I wanted to emulate, were those who had lived through the conflicts and were rebuilding their country for their families with an understanding of language, culture, food, weather, etc that would always be difficult for me to acquire.
2 – that I had very little other than youthful enthusiasm and academic training to offer a post-conflict situation.

That is not to criticise those who work for the aid and development sector, just to say that for me it wasn’t the right moment. But I still wanted to pursue something akin to the work of international development but in a British context. And so I ended up on the graduate scheme in Hull.

I’d argue that in our wealthy country our lead development actors are found in the local public sector agencies. I have a lot of love for a system that is not without its flaws but which tries to recognise local concerns whilst applying national policy in a coordinated fashion.

I’d also argue that for development will always struggle to take root and produce national improvements for a country if competent and effective local administration isn’t sat at the table talking about how to coordinate programmes and identify priorities.

My dissertation considered the ‘Peace Gap’ between elite ideas of what makes peace and the reality for those who live in places that are still recovering from conflict. We spend a lot of time and money and effort with national governance – getting countries to a place where they can trade internationally and receive delegations. At the same time international NGOs work at a local level to meet the most pressing needs of a community. And both of those things are brilliant because they will help to transform lives.

We bypass the bit in the middle at our peril and it’s often identified as being the least effective bit of the jigsaw because of corruption or lack of skill. ‘Good governance’ is a much discussed phrase but does the focus on national governments and democracy overlook the need for all sections of a public service to be effective?

I only have fairly vague ideas about what my career might look like but I’ve been lucky enough to study for an MSc in Public Administration whilst in Hull and I have this hope of bringing the two worlds together. At the end of my MA I didn’t have anything particularly special to offer but perhaps a grounding in international development and local public administration can prove useful? Whether that’s true or not is a question to be answered in a few years – 2 years of experience is not enough to provide credibility and besides, I’m quite excited by the potential waiting to be unlocked within local government.

So, what has that got to do with Freetown?

Well, Hull is twinned with Freetown and has been for 30 years. Last Autumn a delegation from Hull visited Sierra Leone to look at how we could support Freetown City Council in delivering a waste strategy for the city and then we got some funding from the Commonwealth & Local Government Forum to do it.

Which means four of us are heading to Sierra Leone for a week to begin the first phase of the project – the evidence gathering. Our brief is to look at procurement, contract management, asset management and performance monitoring within the council. The goal is to start to put into place a waste strategy for the city but to get there we need to make sure the right foundations are there. Part of that is talking to Freetown City Council about their role at the hub of various efforts at tackling waste, water and sanitation.

Earlier this year the European Union provided 6 million Euros to organisations wanting to tackle these topics in Freetown. That’s a lot of capital money that will be applied to the work that Freetown City Council is trying to achieve. Obviously it is vital that whatever is done includes the council, and doesn’t take place full of good intentions but ultimately completely disconnected from any strategy the council may have.

Which is brilliant really.

This was meant to be sent from Heathrow before we left but sadly didn’t get a chance to post it! So, we’ve been here a couple of days already.