Compost to combat disaster

Nov 28, 2017

Mariatu Koroma outside her home in Culvert, Freetown

Mariatu Koroma lives in 36b, in a row of houses now abandoned in the Culvert/Kissy community of Freetown.


Sierra Leone, the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change stresses, has an annual rainfall of 3,600 liters.


Koroma expressed her fear of this happening again, but explained how she had nowhere else to go. Her neighbor’s homes, now empty, are still filled ankle deep with water.


In addition to increased risk of flooding in this area, the Culvert community is situated amidst the Kissy dumpsite. The mountain of garbage poses as a dam in the river’s natural course to the Atlantic Ocean.


‘I’ve never seen anything like this” says Thorsten Kallnischkies, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Geologist and Waste Management Expert who has worked on almost 200 dumpsites around the world.


Waste is solid, liquid or a gaseous substance, and the walls and mounts of waste that make up Kissy are steaming and hazardous, with individuals mining, searching for scraps of metal and anything they can sell.


There are five waste collection vehicles in all of Freetown, the equivalent of one vehicle per 300,000 persons, and collected waste whether formally or informally, is going to one of two places: Kissy or Kingtom dumpsites. The rest ends up in the cities drains and gutters.


Kissy/Culvert and Kingtom dumpsites receive all categories of hazardous and non-hazardous waste from different sources, including health care facilities.  These dumpsites are releasing different pollutants to the environment, contaminating water and creating public health threats.


There is no waste transfer center in Freetown, somewhere to sort garbage, recycle and separate what can be used for compost. Eighty percent of Freetown’s waste could be recycled and or used as compost, says the UNDP advisor. It costs 2,000 Leones to dispose of a rice bag of garbage. This is something that will save people money, and remove garbage from the cities over flowing drains.


Solving the waste management crisis in Freetown would create job opportunities, and reduce the impact of the rainy season on vulnerable communities.


To this end, UNDP’s debris management and municipal solid waste management experts will provide planning and training to reduce human-induced inadequate solid waste management practices in Sierra Leone, starting with composting. 


Composting breaks down organic fractions of waste into stable substances whose chief use is soil conditioning. Composting, which relies highly on nature, is about enabling the environment for microorganisms to act, says the UNDP advisor, Getaneh Gebre.


Through a train-the-trainers approach, UNDP has mobilized 55 community members in Dwazark, who are already reaping the benefits of mixing banana peel, tree leaves, and other organic decomposable materials for their urban gardens. 


“It’s good for me,” says Margrette Fasia Sandy, who has been living off Pademba Road since her home was destroyed after heavy flooding in August of this year. UNDP’s on the job training began with clearing blocked drains and building terraces along the riverbank. 


“I can plant in my backyard, krain krain, okra and sweet potato.” They’re expensive in the market during the dry season, but now I can grow them for myself.”


“When I go to my village in Bo, I will teach my relatives.”


Similarly to Dwazark, training is now underway in Kamyama, with Culvert next on the list.


Composting can reduce waste transportation and disposal costs and generate income. In addition, increased vegetation and growth provides food, and decreases the likelihood of soil erosion, a contributing factor to August’s mudslide. Matured compost also has the capacity to hold water and serve as a carbon sink, playing a significant role in combating global warming.


Clearing drains was simply the beginning. It’s about knowledge sharing and best practices to put a stop to the harmful human activities that increase vulnerability to natural hazards.


Drawing the connection between climate change, disaster mitigation and effective waste management, UNDP is working to make urban agriculture the new frontier in Freetown and surrounding areas. 


View the photo essay here



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