Mayor Pam Belcher-Taylor is a woman on a mission. She has vowed to clean up Paynesville, a vast suburb east of the Liberian capital Monrovia.
Home to around 320,000 people, Paynesville is a fast-growing urban sprawl which suffers from poor sewage, drainage, lack of clean water and waste management infrastructure. In 2014 the city - along with much of West Africa - was hit by the deadly Ebola outbreak.
It is Paynesville’s growing garbage problem which really spurred Mayor Belcher-Taylor into action. Appointed earlier this year, she says her aim is to transform the municipality into a clean and green environment.
“Our main challenge is the lack of logistics surrounding the collection and disposal of solid waste,” says the Mayor. “It’s also a challenge to educate communities about the environmental impact of burning and burying waste. Informal communities develop on vacant swamp land in residential areas, and there are no official community dump sites for their garbage, so they often dump it illegally in the waterways.”
“There are devastating health implications such as malaria, ebola, scabies, lassa fever and monkey pox. This in turn has a negative impact on the economy as businesses do not prosper when they are surrounded by trash and there is a pending health crises,” she adds.
Four out of five households in Paynesville have no access to proper rubbish collection services. A survey carried out last year suggests that so-called ‘wild disposal’ - burning and dumping in lakes or rivers - is commonplace. The problem became so bad that huge piles of waste were left to rot in the city’s markets and other public areas. Paynesville even had to call for help from colleagues in the neighbouring Monrovia City Corporation to
dispose of a huge pile of garbage in the Goba-chop market which had been lying there for several months. Even when it was collected, the roads were so bad the rubbish trucks could not always make it to the official waste disposal sites.
The GCCA+ has stepped in to help with a €4.6 million programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve access to sanitation through more sustainable urban solid waste collection and disposal. The money will be used to improve solid waste collection, scale up recycling and composting, and build a state-of-the-art landfill site to minimise greenhouse gas emissions and use methane for power generation. A further €1 million has been allocated to waste-to-energy schemes.
Education and raising public awareness is key to the project’s success. “We are engaging our partners, community leaders, and other organisations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts to spread awareness,” says the Mayor. “We also use various forms of media to educate the public about how solid waste effects the environment.”
Madam Belcher-Taylor is also keen to learn from other cities around the world and to share Paynesville’s experiences. She was recently invited to the European Development Days in Brussels where she presented Paynesville’s story at an “Infopoint session” and participated in a discussion on making communities more sustainable and accessible for women. Women are often the ones who have to deal with the household trash and are most impacted if it is not disposed of properly.
Despite the huge waste disposal challenges faced by Paynesville, Mayor Belcher-Taylor is confident the city can turn itself round, and at the same time contribute to the global effort of tackle climate change. “With the assistance of our international and national partners we envision Paynesville transformed into a clean, green city,” says the Mayor. “Our motto is ‘Transforming our City!’ We hope to transform our city, beginning with the development of sustainable solid waste management system.”