Health and environment: waste management in North east Syria

10 February 2021, 13:24

One of the lessons we have learned during the Covid-19 pandemic is the importance of the link between human health and humankind’s efforts to protect our environment.

This has always been a key aspect of Un Ponte Per’s work in the region, where our healthcare initiatives, including our collaboration with the Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC) to support local clinics and hospitals, which have been running in parallel since 2019 with a sustainable approach to waste management.

The decision to work on this was based on local requirements and a suggestion from the Red Crescent: until just a few years ago, North East Syria had no processing facilities for healthcare waste, which requires specific procedures and equipment. When we began working with the local clinics, we realised it was the right time to address these issues, in agreement with the Red Crescent who were already planning to build an efficient system to handle healthcare waste.

In December 2018, we started looking for specialists who could help us design a project for implementation by international experts and local Syrian experts, as well as colleagues from the Area Metropolitana di Barcellona, which was one of our first project donors, joined later in 2020/2021 by the Autonomous Province of Bolzano (Northern Italy).

We established a direct connection between the Italian and Syrian companies, in order to encourage the exchange of best practices between colleagues, which is always a key tenet of our work.

Our main project sites were the towns of Hasakeh, Amuda and Kamishlo: we started working in the big urban centres with a view to gradually expanding towards the healthcare facilities that the KRC had  already set up, to ensure the broadest possible system of safe and efficient healthcare waste management.

We began by setting up two dedicated waste processing areas for the larger hospitals which produce the most waste. It was – and still is – a challenging process. But it is also an important first step towards boosting the capacity of the Red Crescent and the local healthcare authorities, such as North East Syria’s Autonomous Administration’s Department of Health.

This initiative has proved particularly important during the pandemic, when the efficient disposal of Covid-19 healthcare waste is, in itself, a way to contain the continued spread of the virus.

At the moment, our priority is raising awareness in the local community, so they know the right way to dispose of waste; we are also organising training sessions for health workers in clinics and hospitals.

This video, for example, was produced as a training tool for medical and healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals, to make up for a lack of face-to-face training sessions.

We are also providing the necessary PPE for the safe handling of waste, such as collection equipment (recyclable bins and bags) as well as the vehicles required to transport it; we are also working on the renovation and modification of waste processing plants.

Our next projects include coordination with the Syrian authorities to develop long-term strategies for both urban and non-urban waste disposal, together with a monitoring plan for to re-use, recycle and re-purpose waste. This project relates directly to the internationally recognised Right to Health and Wellbeing (article 25 of the Declaration of Human Rights) because, as always, our goal is not only to help cope with a crisis, but to work towards a long-term development strategy.