We need a community approach to help solve our garbage disposal problem

Dear Editor,

As I think of our solid waste management problem in Guyana and the city of Georgetown in particular, I find it difficult to accept that our fate with regard to flooding in the city is one that will be determined only by the weather conditions – including high and low tides – political will and good solid waste management by the authorities. While all of those factors are important considerations, I think we have to look far and wide to try to find solutions. I share the view of many that a large percentage of the problem is behavioural.

Behaviour in this context could refer to that of the authorities within the various solid waste management institutions and organizations, as well as to that of citizens. However, for the purpose of this letter, I will address the behaviour of the citizens. I believe that if there is a change in the behaviour of citizens towards garbage disposal, our solid waste and flooding problems in Georgetown could be significantly reduced.

It is my view that we have an ‘open garbage disposal’ (OGD) problem and we need to work collectively to become ‘open garbage disposal free’ (OGDF). This concept I borrowed from the Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach.

CLTS is an integrated approach used in countries where open defecation is practised. It entails the facilitation of the community’s analysis of their sanitation profile, their practices of defecation and the consequences, leading to collective action to become open defecation free (ODF).  It promotes an approach where the community takes the lead in examining the problem, analyzing it and working towards resolving it.

It is currently used in Asia, Africa, Latin America and South East Asia in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Indonesia and Pakistan, and has also been introduced in China, Mongolia, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Bolivia and Yemen.

The CLTS approach was developed by Dr Kamal Kar from India, a specialist in livestock production, agriculture and natural resources by training, with a special interest in social and participatory development. Having worked in many developing countries in South and South East Asia, Africa and Latin America, he has pioneered a number of innovative approaches in natural resources management and low-cost appropriate technologies in farming. He has also been a leading figure in the field of collective management of pasture and natural resources, urban poverty, slum improvement, and local governance.

The main focus of CLTS is on igniting a change in sanitation behaviour. It does this through a process of social awakening that is stimulated by facilitators from within or outside the community. It concentrates on the whole community rather than on individual behaviours.  It highlights the collective benefit from stopping OD which can encourage a more cooperative approach. People decide together how they will create a clean and hygienic environment that benefits everyone.

Social solidarity, help and cooperation among the households in the community are a common and vital element in CLTS. Other important characteristics are the spontaneous emergence of natural leaders as a community proceeds towards ODF status; and community-innovated systems of reward and penalties.

CLTS starts by enabling people to do their own sanitation profile through appraisal, observation and analysis of their practices and the effects these have. This kindles feelings of shame and disgust, and often a desire to stop OD and clean up their neighbourhood.

My thought is could this approach not be a significant step towards helping us to find a solution to our open garbage disposal problem and creating an open garbage disposal free society.  Could it have the same positive impact in solid waste management processes as it has had in Africa, Asia and to a lesser extent Latin America, in making some parts of those countries open defecation free?

With proper implementation the benefits of CLTS in Guyana can be numerous. The social benefits would include collective community decision-making and action by all, driven by a sense of collective achievement and motivations that are internal to communities; the emergence of new natural leaders and/or encouraging the new commitment of  existing leaders; generating diverse local actions and innovations; reviving traditional social practices of self-help community cooperation and creating new examples of social solidarity and cooperation between rich and the poor in achieving OGDF status; engaging men, women, youth and children in a time-bound campaign and local action to end OGD; encouraging and spreading ideas and possibly improving solid waste technologies.

The possible economic benefits, particularly in Georgetown, may include less flooding – continuous business activities during periods of heavy rainfall, longer school hours during periods of flooding, better public health, sanitation, hygiene, water facilities, fewer hours and resources invested in clean-up activities by residents and businesses; a boost in tourism which could translate to more demand in the transportation and hotel industry (vehicle rentals, apartments and hotel rentals); and a generally cleaner and healthier environment for residents and visitors.

I would therefore like to propose that the relevant organizations – international and national – private and civil society sectors and residents perhaps establish a partnership around applying the Community Led Total Sanitation approach to solid waste management in an effort to make Guyana and more specifically George-town, an open garbage disposal free country/city.

Yours faithfully,
Audreyanna Thomas

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