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Refugees turn waste into work at Zaatari camp

By Camille Dupire - Oct 23,2017 - Last updated at Oct 23,2017

A cash-for-work volunteer delivers materials to Oxfam’s recycling centre, in Zaatari camp, Mafraq Governorate (Photo courtesy of OXFAM)

AMMAN — Despite the national strategy implemented to improve the management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), Jordan continues to suffer from the economic, social and environmental consequences of over 2.5 million tonnes of MSW ending up at dumpsites and landfills each year, according to a Jordan Green Building Council report.

With the population increase caused by the refugee influx, pressure on the landfills has become unsustainable, with the amount of waste generated often outgrowing the landfills’ capacity, according to a study conducted by Oxfam in 2015. 

It found Mafraq Governorate, which hosts around 13 per cent of the Syrian refugees according to the latest UNHCR figures, to be one of the areas most affected by this waste issue.

To counter that trend, Oxfam has been running a project to divert waste produced in the Zaatari refugee camp away from the local landfills, outlined in its recent report “Trash Talk: turning waste into work in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp”.

Using the combined expertise of Syrians and Jordanians, the initiative offers cash-for-work opportunities to volunteers who go around the camp with the aim of encouraging households to separate their dry waste (such as cartons and cans) from their wet waste (like vegetable scraps).

Once separated, their waste is collected by trolley worker volunteers who deliver it to the transfer areas, where it is further separated and processed, the report showed, adding that the waste is then sold to companies who trade in reusable materials, and the profits are reinvested into the project. 

“The project offers cash-for-work opportunities to around 200 refugees each month, providing a much-needed means of income and a sense of purpose for participating camp residents,” Oxfam’s Interim Director in Jordan Nivedita Monga told The Jordan Times via e-mail. 

Entirely reliant on the participation of the camp community, the project was conducted in parallel with an outreach campaign to raise awareness about the initiative. Started as a pilot in one of the 12 administrative districts of the camp two years ago, the project lasted 40 weeks, during which over 80 tonnes of recycled materials were diverted from landfills. It has now expanded to cover the whole districts of the camp, according to the report. 

The project, which is funded by the Australian and German governments, has also greatly improved the quality of life and the living environment for the camp residents. 

“In the past, rubbish was everywhere along with the insects and other pests that come with it, although dumpsters were present throughout the camp but they overflowed to the point that there was nowhere but the ground to throw trash,” Jasem Al Wrewir, a team leader in the project was quoted in the report as saying, adding: “Now, the amount of rubbish in the streets has significantly decreased.”

 

“This project demonstrates how an innovative approach of SWM can create jobs, utilise the latent skills and experience of the Syrian refugee community and contribute to the expansion of new productive economic sectors, as well as improving the environment,” Monga concluded.  

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