18 Sep 2018 Story Disasters & conflicts

Reducing the environmental footprint of peacekeeping operations

Richard Smith/UN Environment

The environment is oftentimes a casualty in conflict. Destruction of natural resources, contamination and land use pressure are all potential conflict consequences. In Central African Republic, the Kolongo landfill was constructed by the Bangui municipality in 2013 to cater for the waste management needs of city residents.

When the civil unrest broke out, shortly after construction of the landfill, the facility was not fully ready. Then, in 2014, the UN peacekeeping mission – the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) – was deployed in Bangui and started to use the landfill.

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UN Environment assisted with the development of a comprehensive waste management plan for the mission. Photo by Gerald Leone UN Environment/REACT

“A liquid collection and treatment system for capturing landfill leachate was never properly constructed,” explains waste management engineer Jerry Leone. “Incoming waste was placed outside and around the underground landfill cells that were originally constructed to contain the waste. The waste was neither properly graded nor covered with soil, which resulted in the propagation of disease vectors including mosquitoes, rats and vermin, and increased the potential for landfill liquids to leach into the environment.”

Jerry Leone works for UN Environment’s Rapid Environment and Climate Technical Assistance (REACT), a facility established to help UN peacekeeping missions implement their ambitious six-year strategy to improve their environmental footprint. REACT supports peacekeepers by funding a team of specialized UN Environment engineers and experts who provide onsite technical assistance and solutions.

The UN Environment team was initially dispatched in July 2017 to investigate the facility and assist with the development of a comprehensive waste management plan for the mission. The team’s findings, together with an independent investigation report on the municipal landfill completed by an environmental consultancy company and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), identified the potential for environmental risks associated with the mismanagement of the landfill. Municipal staff were not given proper direction on how to operate the landfill, leading to a haphazard approach in the management of the site. Additional funding, education and awareness was recommended in order to revert the site back to a functional state of operation.

At the request of MINUSCA, the team conducted a second technical assistance visit to the Central African Republic in April 2018 to assist with improving the operation of the Kolongo landfill. In partnership with MINUSCA, UN Environment developed a comprehensive landfill-training programme which included a two-day field training session and one day of hands-on classroom training for 12 Bangui municipality staff and seven MINUSCA personnel involved with waste management. Participants also included an Indonesian contingent of five UN engineers who took part in waste relocation, compaction and the remediation of access ways through the site. The training programme also incorporated landfill operational safety training, suggestions for waste placement, grading as well as a discussion on waste covering and soil characteristics. 

Martin Guard, a UN Environment hazardous waste specialist, points out, “It is very important that a proper leachate management system is functioning at the landfill site to protect against the risk of leachates entering the surrounding groundwater systems that could affect the quality of the groundwater.”

“Waste that was placed outside the original lined containment cells was relocated to the engineered cells. Improved water management practices to extend the life of the site and sound mechanisms to ensure continual and efficient management of the landfill were also introduced,” explains Martin Guard.

The work continues – UN Member States have approved MINUSCA’s request for funds to proceed with further phases of the Kolongo landfill remediation, including provisions for additional support equipment, continued relocation of waste, soil importation, waste covering, water and well testing, and improvement of local water quality.

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Several upgrades to the site are being planned. Photo by Gerald Leone UN Environment/REACT

“Funding toward additional remedial measures at the site such as closing one of the engineered cells following waste relocation, to allow for adequate storm water and methane gas management, has also been requested,” says Jerry Leone. Planned upgrades include the provision of a waste compactor, a bulldozer, an alternate local water supply system and the completion of the leachate management system.

“Ensuring that the site would be available for the disposal of waste as intended over the next five years and beyond is paramount. The need for this type of facility is critical not only in support of UN operations but also for the City of Bangui whose population has grown considerable as a result of civil unrest,” emphasizes Martin Guard.

The Kolongo landfill case clearly illustrates how UN Environment assists UN peacekeeping operations in reducing environmental risks, while bringing benefits to civilians who are affected by armed conflict – and enhancing environmental protection in the Central African Republic.