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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Waste skills, expertise could make difference in Cambodia

Kings County Councillor Chris Parker says a municipal partnership program between Kings and Battambang District, Cambodia, is a worthwhile project. Here, he holds a figurine he purchased while in Cambodia on a recent technical exchange mission. K.Starratt


BY KIRK STARRATT


Kings County Advertiser

A recent technical exchange mission between Kings and Battambang District, Cambodia was a success: delivering a waste management message.

The three-person Kings delegation included Councillor Chris Parker, program delivery specialist; Brian Van Rooyen, policy coordinator, Valley Waste Resource Management (VWRM); and Andrew Garrett, communication coordinator, VWRM.

“I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile project for the municipality. We’re doing wonderful stuff there,” Parker said during a presentation to council colleagues at the November committee of the whole (COTW) session. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

The technical exchange mission between Battambang and Kings County was the third activity in the partnership program, part of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Municipal Partnership Program. The purpose was to “train the trainer” on environmental values and best practices in waste management with three pilot communes participating - Tuol Tael, Svay Por and Prek Preah Sdach.

The mission aimed to evaluate ways to increase the service level and citizen participation in waste disposal. Mission findings from the technical exchange, from Oct. 12 to 23, say the overall project would develop in five stages: public awareness education, improvements to the waste collection system, revenue generation to provide ongoing financial support to collection system changes, enforcement of an anti-dumping law and the formation of an inter-commune committee. Throughout the development of the project, pilot communes should share resources to strengthen and support social and service changes.

“They can’t afford garbage collection,” Van Rooyen said. “The collector pays the municipality for the exclusive right to collect.”

The success of the environmental awareness training program exceeded expectations. The enthusiasm, passion and dedication of the trainees indicates a high level of commitment, and the team believes this will carry the overall project.

Van Rooyen said they were pleased to meet with the instructors, supposed at first to be 12 to 15, but ended up at 22 people - all very excited. He said there was a $3 per diem budgeted for the two days of training with the instructors: very significant and important to the trainees, and Van Rooyen said this gives an idea of the different standard of living between Canada and Cambodia.

An eye-opening experience

Parker said it took about 600 hours of work to prepare for this two-week trip, but the purpose is to improve the living conditions of Cambodians. Political instability over the past several decades, families living in dumping sites, where cows roam free.

“One of the hardest things was to get that smell out of my mind,” Parker said about the dumping sites they toured.

Parker showed videos of the driving conditions, musicians and a dumpsite beside a cemetery. The bus service in Battambang: up to 25 people crowded on a wagon, drawn by a motorcycle. Land mines are a problem, and Cambodia has the highest per capita rate of amputees in the world. They witnessed lots of garbage being burned, and wanted to see how badly the water was polluted. On a boat trip, Parker ended up having to bail at one point: he was sick after water splashed in his mouth.

Van Rooyen said he learned from a province-wide study on marine waste that about 70 per cent of plastic in the water ends up below the surface. It starts to disintegrate and fish and other marine animals eat it and die.

“What we saw on the river is only the tip of the iceberg,” Van Rooyen said. “I’d hate to see what’s on the bottom.”

Parker said Kings could assist Cambodian municipalities with laws and fundraising to implement waste management programs. The people are downtrodden, but have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit.

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