Issue: October 2018, Sustainability – An Export Success? – Environmental protection and human rights: the international dimension
“We are united by the transfer of knowledge and a shared vision of a more sustainable world – irrespective of where we come from.”
Interview with Desmond Appiah, Sustainability Advisor to the Mayor of Accra
Accra, the capital of Ghana, has a vast waste problem. Quantities of waste are rising rapidly, while the population is also growing. Disposal sites are stretched to the limit. Drains blocked by waste cause severe flooding. In Agbogbloshie on the edge of the city, electronic waste is recycled without regard for proper practice – with serious consequences for humans and the environment. Desmond Appiah plans to tackle these problems: the Mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah, has given him the task of restructuring the city’s waste management system. In an interview with eco@work Appiah talks about promising ways forward and his experience of working with European experts.
Mr Appiah, how is waste management in Accra organised?
In 2016 the city introduced a “polluter pays” system to minimise the financial burden on the public sector. As a result, waste collection and coverage rates have gone up, but the private waste collection companies have still not been able to achieve 100% coverage. So at present around 25%-30% of the waste generated within the city is being collected by informal collectors. We need their services to cover the shortfalls, but we also need to manage their operations properly. The Metropolitan Assembly – the city’s administrative authority – is therefore registering all informal collectors, providing them with health and safety training and helping them develop their operations into formal or semi-formal businesses.
What other plans do you have for managing waste?
With a team put together by the Mayor, I am analysing the whole waste management value chain – from generation, collection and transportation to pre-treatment and recycling or disposal. My tasks also include tracking the performance of the private waste management companies.
What are the most effective ways of tackling the waste problems?
We need more stringent punitive measures that deter both citizens and companies from breaking the rules. In my view the most effective measures involve enforcing these rules and raising people’s awareness. Of course we also need investment in waste management infrastructure.
How would you describe your experience of working with European sustainability experts?
The joint projects involved very effective and focussed collaboration. In many ways they have prepared me for my current task of making Accra a more sustainable city. The collaborations also enable me to extend my knowledge and they keep me well-informed about current trends and innovations. I enjoy engaging with colleagues who may have different perspectives from me, and sharing experiences with them. I seek their professional opinion even after the official projects are over. We are united by the transfer of knowledge and a shared vision of a more sustainable world – irrespective of where we come from.
What should European experts know before they work in Ghana?
I believe the most important thing is for them to be aware of the massive cultural differences in the perception and understanding of sustainability. All the experts I have collaborated with have had excellent knowledge in this area.
And what can the Europeans learn in Ghana?
I would simply say that we are all learning that there are many different ways to achieve the common goal of building a just and sustainable world. It may call for some readjustments in our perceptions but we are in it together.
Thank you for talking to eco@work.
The interviewer was Christiane Weihe.
C40 City Advisor for Accra
Resilience and Sustainability Advisor to the Mayor of Accra
Desmond Appiah holds a BA (Hons.) in Geography & Resource Development from the University of Ghana, an MSc in Energy and Sustainable Development from De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, and a Master’s in Environmental Protection and Safety Management from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, USA. He has many years’ experience of working for the environment and sustainability, including as an advisor to an environmental protection project for Turning Bird Consulting in York, Pennsylvania and as auditor of quality management systems for Coco-Cola UK. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization UNIDO appointed him a National Expert in Quality Assurance.
The Mayor of Accra, Mohammed Adjei Sowah, has given him the task of restructuring the city’s waste management system. He is also a C40 City Advisor and immediate past Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for Accra. In this role he will coordinate measures to boost the city’s resilience in the face of social and economic challenges and other stresses. The aim is also to enable Accra to withstand catastrophic events such as fires, floods and earthquakes. This work is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities” programme. He is also leading the City’s effort to develop a Paris Agreement Compliant Climate Action Plan, funded by the C40 Climate Leadership Group.
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