Gaziantep, a city of 2.2 million people, is located near the Syrian border and is currently hosting 350 000 Syrian refugees, according to Government data.
Turkey, a country of 80 million people, has the largest refugee population in the world since 2014. As of April 2019, this includes 3.6 million Syrians and over 400 000 refugees with other nationalities.
Although the sudden population increase has posed significant challenges to the Turkish government at both the national and local level, they have responded well to the situation and allowed the refugees to use their national social services.
Although the sudden population increase has posed significant challenges to the Turkish government at both the national and local level, they have responded well to the situation and allowed the refugees to use their national social services. This includes issues such as additional generation of waste, which has led to additional health and environmental risks.
The Turkish government has invested over 37 billion USD since the start of the crisis and overall has shown strong leadership in their response. However, support from the international community has been critical through both grants and loans from donor countries, implemented and coordinated with the support from UN agencies and NGOs.
“This is the largest refugee crisis in the world. Until now the Government of Turkey has spent approximately 37 billion dollars to address the impact”, says Sertac Turhal, Project Manager under the Syria Crisis and Resilience Response Program of UNDP Turkey.
UNDP Turkey was one of the first agencies to support the Government with its response to the Syria crisis in 2014. One of the main areas of work is UNDP Turkey’s support to municipalities by investing in additional waste management infrastructure and technical support. The support is provided primarily to municipalities in the south eastern parts of Turkey, located next to Syrian border, where approximately 1.5 million Syrians live. UNDP Turkey works closely with the municipalities of provinces such as Gaziantep, Kilis, Hatay, and Sanliurfa and offers support on issues including solid waste and wastewater management.
“One of the main challenges for the municipalities is the waste management. The population grew so fast in such a short period of time due to the arrival of the Syrians, that it was difficult for the municipalities to respond to the high increase in demand of basis services”, says Turhal.
A good example of the support provided by UNDP to the municipality is Gaziantep, a city of 2.2 million people, which is currently hosting 350 000 Syrian refugees, according to Government data.
In Gaziantep, the amount of solid waste last year (2018) was 650 000 tons, whereas in 2017 it was 533 000 tons. “Normal growth usually amounts to 30 000 tons of waste increase per year, but has now increased by 100 000 tons per year”, says Gökhan Yaman, the Environmental Engineer of the Gaziantep Municipality. He adds that this amount of waste in the Gaziantep city was forecasted for around year 2028, but instead they have already reached it.
If not treated properly and dumping it illegally, waste means a huge risk for environment and especially the water resources. In addition to this, if waste is not managed properly and becomes visible in community, there are additional risks related to social cohesion and negative perceptions of refugees.
Local Turkish municipalities have faced the challenge of a sudden increase in the amount of waste as a result of the incoming refugees. This has led to a huge task of reorganizing and enlarging the overall waste management in a modern, effective and environmentally friendly way.
“Over the last five years 500 000, Syrians have arrived to Gaziantep. I don’t think there is any city which can take such amount of people in such a short period of time without additional investments to address infrastructural and environmental challenges”, says Yaman.
Due to the sudden growth of the population, the Municipality of Gaziantep had no choice but to build new landfill sites earlier than originally planned.
Yaman says, that they have spent 70 million TL (Turkish lira) to reduce environmental impact and improve environmental services, constructing additional waste transfer stations, wastewater and waste treatment plants and waste disposal sites. The municipality also invested in the central landfill areas to extend their lifespan.
“For the waste management alone, we have spent 30 million TL between 2015–2018”, reports Yaman.
With that money they built two new landfill sites in 2018, which they originally planned to build by 2025. The sites were built using modern technology, with a collection system and treatment for leachate water.
In addition to the waste management infrastructure, environmental challenges have also strained the human resource capacities of the Municipality of Gaziantep. Due to urgent need in various environmental projects, the staff of the environment unit in the municipalities has grown from three to 20 employees over five years. That has also meant more expenses to cover.
Yaman says that one important aspect they have learned from the Syrian crisis, is the importance of planning. “Every plan has to be made with long-term perspectives – from 50 to 100 years forward.”
“Thanks to the new waste transfer stations, we have solved the problem of illegal dumping on the roads. In addition to this, in 2019 we were also able to close all the illegal dumping sites”, tells Yaman.
The support provided by UNDP Turkey has had a positive impact so far. “It’s a very, very effective system. And it is a concept now, which other municipalities are copying. It was a pilot project for us. Now our support has become an example for others”, says Turhal.
In addition to the provision of waste management infrastructure and equipment, which directly supports municipalities, the support provided by UNDP has also saved money for the municipalities. “Whatever we do, we try to do it in an innovative way. Small funds, large impact and new technologies. It’s a new way of thinking for municipalities”, says Turhal.
Amongst others, UNDP Turkey has supported the Municipality of Gaziantep with the provision of two new transfer stations as well as two large waste trucks, both funded by the EU.
He gives an example of using waste vehicles. UNDP Turkey invested in large waste trucks and they supported the municipalities with system optimization. Now, instead of using small waste trucks, larger trucks are used for transferring the waste from transfer stations to the landfill sites and also more efficient routes are used. Overall, this has resulted in the more efficient use of time and resources.
In this way, the Gaziantep municipality saves money because the waste transfers take fewer working hours and fewer vehicles.
“According to our calculations, the municipality in Gaziantep is saving 400 000 USD per year just with our support on this particular part of the waste value chain”, says Turhal.
Now there is a plan to complete a new mechanical sorting station by the end of 2019, funded by the EU and implemented by UNDP with ILBANK. There is also a plan for a mechanical separation facility and a biogas facility to be implemented in 2019. After that, Gaziantep will be able to separate organic and other waste more efficiently. The new site will be finished in 2019 and it will be built in line with all modern environmental requirements.
Reducing any negative environmental impact of the Syrian crisis in Turkey has been a critical challenge to manage for the municipalities in the South East.
“Lack of funding, the need to respond in very short period of time and in some cases lack of preparedness of the municipalities”, says Turhal when asked what are some of the main challenges faced.
“When you say “Syrians” very view people are thinking of municipality infrastructure.”
UNDP Turkey also supported three municipalities with the establishment of project management offices. Those offices provided technical support, for example to strengthen the municipal capacities to plan, budget and manage projects, including those funded externally.
“Our priority is to answer to the Syrian crisis, but yes, we are also trying to ensure more and more environmental needs. All that we are doing, all those facilities we are building are environmentally sustainable facilities.”
(The figures used throughout are taken from the period 11/2018, unless otherwise mentioned)
Text: Nina Jaatinen
Photos: Vanessa Riki