New NGO for disaster waste management

Materials World magazine
1 Jun 2006

Martin Bjerregaard, a Golder Associates consultant, is setting up an NGO to address disaster waste, based on his work in areas such as Banda Aceh, Pakistan and New Orleans. The group will work with local governments to ensure that waste management is integrated from day one of the recovery process.

A new NGO to address the issue of disaster waste is being set up by Martin Bjerregaard, a Golder Associates consultant. The NGO idea grew from his work in disaster areas such as Banda Aceh, Pakistan and New Orleans.

Bjerregaard was frustrated by the fact that many groups rush to provide help for disaster regions but waste is often ignored. He intends the new group to work with ‘local governments to ensure that waste management is integrated from day one of the recovery process'.

Recovery in Pakistan, following the recent earthquake, has been particularly slow, says Bjerregaard. This was mainly due to the winter weather and inaccessibility of the mountainous regions affected by the earthquake. Now, he says, people have ‘gone home' and are living among the debris in tents next to their ruined homes.

The longer that waste is left following a disaster, the greater the risks to health in the area. Furthermore, there is often a lack of understanding of the hazards involved when dealing with hospital, building or municipal waste. Children are at particular risk as they are often found playing in the waste piles. Bjerregaard emphasises the need to put solid waste management systems in place ‘rather than chuck it by the river and burn it'.

The proposed NGO would coordinate effective recycling to create jobs and reduce the cost of rebuilding. Often, building materials that could be re-used are disposed of and the community then pays inflated prices for new materials. Local recycling programmes and crushers could avoid this situation.

The group will advise on environmentally sound disposal of materials that cannot be recycled and offer rapid deployment of the necessary senior engineering skills and heavy equipment needed. The key objectives for the NGO will be to develop best practice and guidance, and to assist in the development of disaster preparedness and recovery plans.

The NGO also plans to work with engineering and scientific experts to quantify the level and type of waste in certain circumstances. ‘Specifically, in the case of an earthquake, [if] given access to the appropriate seismic data and expertise, we could be in a position to estimate the scale of waste and prepare a disaster recovery plan that would immediately come into effect as soon as a disaster struck,' Bjerregaard explains. Golder Associates is providing seed funding for the group, but Bjerregaard is keen to get other companies on board. He would like individuals and businesses within waste management, water sanitation, manufacturing, academia, government and consultancies to support the formation of the independent waste NGO.

The NGO will be registered in the UK, and aims to provide immediate solid waste management following a natural or man-made disaster. Until now, none of the international relief organizations has had waste on their mandates. The international water sanitation NGO community (the inter-agency group) is supporting the new NGO as waste plays a large part in water contamination.'


Further information:

Martin Bjerregaard, tel +44 (0)7971 492957, email: