by Kirk Wallace, AEN Armenia Office Director
AEN is attempting to create something heretofore unseen, and unknown, in Armenia. Our focus for 2012 is waste management and, as such, we have come up with a project design to address this issue. As discussed in previous entries, Armenia is facing a serious waste crisis. Armenia currently has over 400 rural dumps, none of which are constructed in a sanitary and environmentally safe fashion. This fact bears repeating. Armenia does not have, to our knowledge, a single sanitary landfill. In addition, trash piles line the road ways and clog the rivers and streams. Animals and birds scavenge the piles and dumps and spread germs and disease. And, it is just ugly, plain and simple.
The challenge is to create a solution to the increasing problem of waste disposal that is both affordable and sustainable. Rural villages have very little money and traditional, “Western” approaches are prohibitively expensive. AEN believes it has a solution. We call it an integrated waste management program, or IWMP for short. The solution is unique because it is designed specifically for implementation in rural areas where resources and money are in short supply. This solution requires a comprehensive approach that includes the traditional change management mechanisms as well as the approach of a non-traditional use of “appropriate technology”.
“Change management” refers to a comprehensive village(s) wide education program that teaches villagers about the dangers presented by haphazard discarding of wastes, how to recycle wastes and how to compost organic wastes for re-use. The education program is designed include government employees, local NGOs, and village adults. In addition, there is a “teacher of teachers” (ToT) element that ensures this education is disseminated in the local schools as well.
“Appropriate technology” is the use of existing resources, both natural and human, in the creation of viable solutions to local problems. In the case of waste management, an appropriate technology landfill would be a low-tech version of a sanitary landfill without all the Western “bells and whistles” and inflated costs therein associated. The landfill would still be sanitary and able to contain toxic leachates and safely disburse build-ups of methane gas. It is our belief that, using appropriate technology, regional sanitary landfills can be constructed for a fraction of the cost of the landfills constructed in Europe and the United States. We currently have an American architecture firm taking on the unique challenge of designing the landfill to our specifications. In the case of a rural village, an appropriate technology sanitary landfill is the only feasible solution that remains after recycling and re-use has removed the majority of the waste stream.
We would, in partnership with the Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development (UFSD) and Green Lane NGO, like to pilot our IWMP in the village of Akhurian. Akhurian is located adjacent to Gyumri and has a population of approximately 10,000. Our IWMP however, is not limited to just Akhurian. There are at least 8 villages surrounding Akhurian that we will include in the project. The idea is to build “regional” fills in order to achieve economies of scale and reduce costs.
The Akhurian project is important not just for Akhurian but for Armenia as well. The project is designed to be replicable, thus it will serve as a replicable model for other rural villages that endeavor to solve their waste problems. AEN envisions that villages, in close proximity to one another, combine resources to create regional landfills. Regional landfills negate the necessity to construct 400 separate fills. In the case of Akhurian, there are eight additional villages involved in this venture with an additional five on the horizon. In the case of Armenia, using this approach, perhaps 50 -60 regional appropriate technology sanitary landfills would suffice.
The importance of this project cannot be overstated. The time has come for Armenia to address this issue. AEN believes that villages are ready to address the growing problem that is waste management and we have a potential solution. This project is unique in Armenia and the Caucasus. We believe that with vision and determination Armenia can take the lead in sanitary waste management practices and serve as a model for other developing nations.
Our project is partially funded but we are seeking additional funding in order ensure that it is implemented properly. We would also welcome any suggestions in regard to any phase of the project as well as identifying potential engineering firms willing to take on this unique challenge. This is an opportunity to create positive change in Armenia and we welcome your assistance.