Tejaswini Pagadala has put together a quick summary of the panel and some of her favourite quotes from the panelists.


Every disaster is different. Each situation has to be dealt in a very specific way. Our immediate focus will be on emergency employment, waste collection, reactivating services to reduce threat to human life.

  • Waste management is different in different humanitarian crisis.
  • In Haiti, waste management infrastructure is very poor.
  • In Nepal, during the recent earthquake, the traditional practice for MSW was basically dumping in river. The country has only one sanitary landfill.
  • The system of waste collection & its impact – In Nepal, we have been active in debris management.
  • Modus operandi: We shift from a situation of emergency to a model of development. In such a situation, our priority is to reduce the immediate threat to people and, identify and segregate hazardous waste.
  • During disaster, there’s a need to isolate the waste and store it safely. Quick interventions create an immediate impact.
  • How do consumption habits shift during a disaster? Firstly, during these situations, there’s massive disaster waste or debris to deal with.
  • On the other hand, consumption patterns of people affected change. Initially, there is a sudden drop of waste produced because of loss of livelihoods

Working in disaster waste is an exclusive club. There’s lots of work to be done. It’s very difficult to make people talk about waste during humanitarian crisis.

  • Later, humanitarian aid kicks in and packaging waste increases. So, the composition of waste changes – organic waste reduces and packaging waste (plastics) spikes.
  • In my observation, In Nepal, there were remote villages which had no packaging waste at all. However, with humanitarian aid kicking in, there is a lot of packaging waste even in these remote villages (especially water bottles).
  • In Yemen, the blockade of goods (or sanctions) had decreased waste generation. This affects the generation and the composition of waste, eventually, impacting the whole system.
  • In what situations does waste management become a priority? The biggest challenge is to identify waste as a problem and put it on the agenda.
  • It usually gets on the agenda the moment it becomes an issue. Therefore, the moment it becomes an issue, it’s too late.
  • After 2005 Tsunami, we had issues to introduce cluster management. There will be several coordination issues where clusters don’t take responsibility if it doesn’t fall under their purview.


All we need is the will and motivation to manage waste. We need to get locals to involve in this, without them, it’s extremely difficult.

  • Waste management in humanitarian crisis needs preparation and planning, motivating local communities and the coordination between the local government and civil society groups.
  • Example: In the Gaza strip, during the 51-day war, we witnessed a lot of debris from the 10,000 homes that were brought down to ground.
  • The amount of debris was huge. Given that this huge level of debris might lead to contamination, we had to first understand the seriousness of debris.
  • On the other hand, we also had to focus on humanitarian projects.

Get prepared, engage locals, act fast and guarantee coordination among various stakeholders.

  • What is the kind of equipment that is used during disasters? It depends on the waste composition. For debris, we need crushers. You can either have a central crusher or a mobile crusher to take it wherever you want.
  • In case of packaging waste, waste management groups should find a way to manage this waste if they allow aid to kick in.
  • Timelines involved in disaster recovery: In Gaza, it took more than a year. There’s still work to be done because they don’t have the machinery. That’s the first step.


If development aid is being concentrated in one zone for consumption, then a considerable amount of it has to be allocated for the consequences such as waste management. That’s a big part of disaster waste management as well.

  • Waste management during humanitarian crisis is unique to the situation you experience.
  • For instance: If we look at the disaster in Japan, it’s a different economy from Haiti. It had nuclear contamination which had to be dealt differently.
  • In Iraq, there wasn’t a huge amount of waste produced by the economy initially. The influx of capital into Iraq’s economy has led to huge packaging waste and food waste. Humanitarian crisis in Iraq wasn’t immediate and currently, the city is flooded with waste.
  • Shift in consumption habits: In disaster-hit cities, humanitarian crisis is formed from waste management in such cities. In Beirut or Libon, “The humanitarian crisis is waste management.”

We also need to think about the health workers working on waste management. This is crucial. This is generally overlooked. This needs proper planning to be proactive.

  • Equipment: In Nigeria or Sierra Leone during E-bola, medical waste was huge. This means it had to go into a proper incinerator. But, in these places, there wasn’t any incinerator available. Therefore, we had to find equipment that the locals (who have low education backgrounds) can handle.
  • The appropriate solution in Sierra Leone was to use oil drums. Therefore, in any disaster-prone zone, we need to look for the best out of the worst.
  • When various organizations supply humanitarian aid, there is also the need for local authorities to think about waste management.

Waste cannot be forgotten. It has to be brought into the agenda and be focused one.

  • We need to look at waste management with a more holistic perspective.
  • Infrastructure contingency planning: In Britain or Europe, the waste management infrastructure is always available but there’s not much land.
  • In developing nations, there isn’t much to do there. So, you have got lot of room to play with because a lot of land is available.
  • One of the main challenges we face is that local planning authorities do not take accountability of the community problems arising out of waste management.
  • Brian McCarthy

    Resources and Waste Advisory Group

    Brian McCarthy is a well seasoned international waste manager with a career focused on assisting rap...
  • Michael Cowing

    Michael J Cowing, a UK and St Lucian national, is a Chartered Environmental Scientist specializing i...
  • Olmo Forni

    Waste Consultant working for Disaster Waste Recovery

    Olmo Forni is a Waste Consultant working for Disaster Waste Recovery, the specialized NGO for debris...
  • Ramy Salemdeeb

    Environmental analyst at Zero Waste Scotland

    Ramy Salemdeeb is an environmental analyst at Zero Waste Scotland, a not-for-profit environmental or...
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