Ending the Vicious Cycle of Open Dumps; Improving Waste Pickers’ Lives

November 8, 2013


Unregulated dumps create a public health and environmental hazard. A World Bank Group project is bringing better landfill services to the West Bank.

Sintana Vergara / World Bank

  • A new World Bank/IFC project is building the West Bank’s first professionally managed, regionally operated landfill, which will benefit about a third of the West Bank’s population.
  • It is one of the first landfill projects to use output-based aid that ties subsidies to delivery of services. Municipalities that measurably improve services receive a subsidy for disposal fees at the landfill.
  • The project also incorporates a livelihood program to help "waste pickers," who resell materials picked from dumps, recreate their lives. It helped one man buy stone-cutting equipment, another to attend college, and others find jobs.

Most of us don’t think twice about where our waste goes, but in the two poorest areas of the West Bank, garbage has become a public health problem.

For many years, waste was dumped in open areas. It attracted pests, and the dumps occasionally caught fire. “It truly was a public health and environmental hazard,” said Sintana Vergara, an environmental engineer at the World Bank Group. “Waste collection rates were lower than ideal.  Municipalities in charge of collection weren’t able to generate a good fee collection rate, because people weren’t getting good service and were reluctant to pay. It was a vicious cycle.”

A World Bank/IFC team is now working with the governorates of Bethlehem and Hebron to break that cycle by building the first professionally managed, regionally operated landfill in the West Bank. The new facility will benefit 800,000 Palestinians, about a third of the West Bank’s population. 

 “This is one of the first landfill projects to use the output-based aid approach,” said Carmen Nonay, manager for the Global Partnership for Output-Based Aid (GPOBA), which mainstreams output-based aid into World Bank projects. Output-based aid gives the poor access to basic services they can’t afford, with subsidies tied to the delivery of services.

 “In order to get municipalities to use the landfill, you need to make it affordable,” Nonay said.

If municipalities measurably improve services, they get a subsidy for the disposal fee at the landfill. “It’s a big innovation,” said Zoubida Allaoua, a World Bank director. “It really ups the probability of success by establishing guaranteed incentives for use.”

The other human impact

Creating a professionally managed regional sanitary landfill had clear environmental and public health benefits; but the process also required shutting down dozens of small, unregulated dumps scattered across the southern West Bank, where people scavenged for their livelihoods, picking out metal, plastic – anything with value that could be sold.

The project team met with the informal workers, known as “waste pickers.” Together, they came up with an approach in which the waste pickers could envision their own future. The United Nations Development Program, with finance from the Islamic Development Bank, managed the livelihood project and consulted with about 85 “waste pickers” to create individual, long-term livelihood plans.  

" We mobilized the communities, brought donors in under one umbrella. And, most importantly, we built it around the national and local government priorities – it’s part of the Palestinian Authority’s solid waste management strategy. "

Ibrahim Dajani

Environmental Engineer, World Bank

One man said he would really like to work with his brother and could increase efficiency at his brother’s stone-cutting shop if he had his own stone-cutting machine. The project bought him one. Others opted to stay in the waste management system, working, for example, in the new recycling center. One young man got a university scholarship and ended up at the top of his class.  

Ibrahim Dajani, an environmental engineer who led the World Bank team, tells of a man who wanted to join his brother-in-law’s land surveying business, but lacked the necessary modern surveying equipment. 

“When we went back to talk to him, he had joined his brother-in-law,” Dajani said. “He wasn’t making a lot more money than he had made as a waste picker, but he said, ‘Look at me, I am clean. I am healthy.’ That really moved everyone.” 

Establishing teamwork

The project brought together a diverse and multi-faceted team, each bringing its own expertise – The World Bank, IFC, Global Partnership for Output-Based Aid, European Union, Islamic Development Bank, Italian Cooperation, United Nations Development Program and USAID, to name a few. 

“We mobilized the communities, brought donors in under one umbrella,” Dajani said. “And, most importantly, we built it around the national and local government priorities – it’s part of the Palestinian Authority’s solid waste management strategy.”

The team took a holistic approach to the West Bank’s solid waste problem, upgrading every step in the waste management chain. 

The first order of business was to establish a Joint Service Council, made up of representatives from 33 municipalities, to manage the waste program on a regional level. Next came large scale infrastructure improvements, investing in a sanitary landfill so waste can go to one professionally managed site rather than dozens of small, unregulated, open dumps. Investments for recycling and composting, were also included.

With the support from the IFC, a private company was brought in to operate the West Bank’s first professionally run landfill.

Willpower and brainpower

Dajani has a theory: the most successful development projects have both political and technical champions.  The political champions provide the will power to move the project forward, and the technical champions bring the know-how. 

In the Bethlehem and Hebron governorates, he found both.

“We were fortunate to find people who really wanted to change the way things are done, for the better,” he said. “And we were also able to identify very technically capable people to run the Joint Service Council.  Without these really smart, dedicated, hardworking people, we could never make it happen.”

With the GPOBA subsidy continuing for four years, the World Bank Group team will work to provide support to keep the institutions strong.

“We’re talking about a fragile state, a place that is politically very challenged,” Vergara said. “But the local governments and the Palestinian people really want this to work.  You see brainpower and willpower coming together in a way that is truly inspiring.”

Dajani is equally optimistic.  He is encouraged by the communities support for the project and the continuing push to involve customers.

“The Joint Service Council set up a Facebook page where they communicate with customers and customers can give feedback,” he said.  “They are working on ICT plans that will allow customers to text them if, for example, a dumpster is full and needs to be emptied.  It will help the council alert customers to service disruptions or delays, and get feedback on customer satisfaction.  The communities are not only involved, they’re constantly innovating and moving forward.”