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It’s been ages since I last updated this because first I was home for Christmas and everyone heard me moaning about the impossibility of obtaining spinach until they were sick to death of it, and secondly because since I got back on 20 January, we have been working absolutely flat out to try and get as much as possible done before rainy season.  I’m about as tired as I’ve ever been, and there always seems to be more and more to do. I have to keep reminding myself that what we have done is pretty amazing.

Lots of things to tell about:

Transform Freetown Forum

The first thing that happened when I got back was we had the formal launch of the Mayor’s Transform Freetown plan on 24 January (see http://fcc.gov.sl/transform-freetown/– our website is getting very swanky now as TBI has hired an amazing data/tech person called Oli who has already gone on my list of Saviours).  The whole thing was organised by Manja, who is the other lead person within the Mayor’s team (she was the Mayor’s campaign manager) and who is an extraordinary and brilliant person with the key skill of laughing in the face of chaos and disaster.

Because FCC has no money, we had to be as economical as possible in our choice of venue, so we chose to use a conference hall in a government building called the Miatta Conference centre.  At 5pm the night before the event, the entire place was utterly utterly filthy, including the toilets, we discovered many of the chairs were broken, various of our banners were not printed yet and the ones that were were being hung up crooked or had been printed out wrong and had to be done again, and the brochure we wanted to print out for all 500 attendees was still at the printers – the Mayor was making last minute changes to the text.  The venue cleaners were there but were claiming, for obscure reasons, that they couldn’t start cleaning until 7pm but they would work until midnight.  We were sceptical.

In the end, Manja and some of the MDU team stayed at the venue and the printers to make sure that the banners actually arrived, and my TBI colleague Claudia and myself came to Miatta at 7am the following morning, with cleaning stuff, bleach and yellow gloves, and old clothes on. We were right to do this: almost everywhere was still absolutely black with thick sticky dust, including the leaves of the plants which we hired to adorn the main stage. I’m not even going to describe the state of the toilets, which had been used extensively by one of the cleaners who was evidently suffering from an extremely bad stomach.  At this point we were expecting the President and 500 other people in only 3 hours time – and what if the President needed the loo?? – so we did a lot of very fast cleaning in the heat (the venue wouldn’t turn the aircon on until 30 minutes before start time).  I was black with dirt from head to foot by the time we finished and had to do some inventive washing of myself from a giant tank of only cleanishwater in the toilets at Miatta before I could get changed into official launch day clothes.  Still, I said to myself, it’s a step up:  previously I’d only cleaned the toilets at the City Council. Now I’ve cleaned the toilets at central government!

Anyway, it was great. The President came and gave the keynote address (as far as I am aware he did not need the loo), several Ministers came and spoke supportively of the project, and we had some of the key leads from the projects themselves talking about the (very ambitious) targets we’ve set and the initiatives we’re running which are intended to achieve those targets. The President’s support was in fact historic:  the government is a different political party than the Mayor, and historically party politics in Sierra Leone is wholly partisan.  The fact that he came and gave such public support to the Mayor is unprecedented.  It was a fabulously successful and happy day (that’s me with the Mayor and Manja, and me with the Mayor and my TBI colleague Wilsona – the one in the cool cape).

Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation

Nowadays I only talk about solid waste management (that’s dealing with normal rubbish) and faecal sludge. I talk about faecal sludge so much that my TBI colleague Fanny now starts laughing every time I mention it.  It’s as if she thinks it isn’t necessarily ideal chat over beers.

But I’m fairly comprehensively obsessed with it.  It’s my main area of work, well ok it’s one of my numerous areas of work, but it’s my official main area of work, and it’s also the piece of work the Mayor is doing which is going to make the most difference, and the quickest difference, to the lives of people in Freetown.  And we’re doing so many cool cool things.  It’s so exciting. Here’s the main list.

Fixing collection

We’re trying to change ingrained behaviour patterns of people in Freetown. Everyone routinely chucks all their rubbish into watercourses and drainage and it blocks them and causes flooding in the rainy season (often killing people and always causing extensive economic loss), and standing water all the time, which is a vector for cholera and malaria. So if you fix the solid waste collection problem, and clear the drains, you save people’s lives – especially children who are the most vulnerable to cholera and malaria and who die all the time:  see this http://www.aho.afro.who.int/profiles_information/index.php/Sierra_Leone:Analytical_summary_-_Health_Status_and_Trends (it’s sad, I warn you).

One of the reasons people chuck waste in this way is because they don’t have an alternative. There’s hardly any household or business waste collection, and FCC doesn’t have the financial or managerial resources to provide it. So we are supporting the private sector to spread collection services across Freetown in various different ways, taking into account also the fact that many people live in slum areas which cannot be access by road – either because there is no road, or because they live on extremely steep hillsides which can’t be accessed by vehicles. We have funding to buy 60 motorised tricycles which can access some of those areas, which we will then loan out to groups who want to go into the business (and we have funding to give them training in running a business).  We’ve almost certainly got funding to set up a series of transfer stations across the city which are for the smaller tricycle operators to use. These will mean that the tricycles don’t have to travel the whole way across the city to dump their collected waste at one of the dumpsites, which has two really important consequences:  (a) they don’t get so much wear and tear on their tricycle, and their fuel costs come down and (b) they are no longer incentivised to chuck their whole load of waste into watercourses rather than taking it to the dumpsites. The long term plan is that FCC will pay for the transfer station system itself, but we need funding for it while we’re implementing our revenue mobilisation work this year and next.

I’ve also written a bye-law* which among other things requires all households and businesses to have their waste collected a minimum of once per week, and I’ve been helping FCC improve how they deploy their teams of sanitary inspectors to ensure maximum visibility and maximum effect with very limited resource – and the Mayor has begged and borrowed vehicles for them to use, because you can’t get round the city unless you have a car…  We’re also registering all the waste collection providers in the city and recording where they operate, what type of equipment they use, how many customers they have, etc.  Once we’ve done that we’ll actually know which areas need more help: it’s a game changer.

So that is providing workable alternative solutions, and setting up a stick.  But one of the best things we are doing is the Cleanest Zone Competition, which is the behaviour change carrot. Basically the community which demonstrates the greatest improvementin cleanliness wins amazing prizes: a water point, solar powered streetlights, some paved road and some scholarships.  The first winner will be announced on 11 April – it’s going to be on AYTV which you can access through the web if anyone fancies watching – and loads of communities in Freetown have already got really excited and worked together to clean up their area, plant trees and flowers (which prevent soil erosion which contributes to flooding), create murals, etc.

All the details about it are on the FCC website (http://fcc.gov.sl/cleanest-zone-competition/) – I wrote them, so you can be sure it’s an exciting and persuasive read.  And if you look at the thank you list at the bottom of the page, you’ll see that one of the organisations that has made Cleanest Zone possible is Keating.

Thanks again to everyone at Keating who donated.  You’ve saved actual lives.

Fixing the dumpsites

There are two “official” dumpsites in Freetown, one called Kissy and one called Kingtom. They are both currently uncontrolled dumpsites – there’s no control or compacting of waste dumped, waste pickers including kids live on the dumpsite amid the waste and the pigs.  Kissy is a deathtrap and we are trying to get funding to safely close it, but Kingtom can with work be turned into a useful resource pending us being able to build a proper sanitary landfill (we have funding for the initial site location work).

Kingtom is right in the middle of Freetown, and it is surrounded by informal settlements which weekly encroach further on the dumpsite as there is no wall or other barrier between the rubbish and the shacks.  The site is unlined and on open ground, so that leachate from the waste soaks directly into the surrounding water courses.

The trucks, handcarts and tricycle-carts dump their waste as near to the entrance as the collectors can get away with – FCC’s enforcement resource at the site is inadequate and poorly trained.   This dumped solid waste often blocks the “road” through the dumpsite, which leads to the area used for the discharge of faecal sludge from the vacuum trucks that empty the city’s cess pits.  If the vacuum trucks cannot access this area, they simply dump in the road itself. There is no faecal sludge treatment at all in the whole of Freetown.  The dumped liquid waste makes its way into the watercourses around Kingtom, which are closely surrounded by the shacks of the slum dwellers living next to and upon the site:

That black river you can see is a river of congealed shit.  The photo on the right is of the same river facing the other way – facing towards the dumpsite – and all that waste you can see is sitting on top of the same river of congealed shit.  The corrugated iron sheet is the wall of someone’s home.  On the left (and the main pic) is a vacuum truck dumping faecal sludge in the middle of the dumpsite.

Waste pickers separate plastic into piles for recycling and setting fire to cables or other electronic items to obtain the valuable copper inside. Methane gas escaping from the piles of rubbish makes this extremely dangerous. The dumpsite is constantly alight in dry season, with some fires burning out of control as per pics below (there is no water source at the dumpsite, and access for Freetown’s fire trucks is very difficult).

So.  Upset yet? Now for the good news. We’ve got funding for the design and construction of the required engineering works to turn Kingtom into something closer to an engineered landfill.  Engineering done this financial year; construction next financial year.  We’ve also almost certainly got funding to install a very cool faecal sludge treatment technology which can use some rudimentary infrastructure that currently exists.  This should be in place by July this year – just before the full on start of the rainy season – and will mean that river of black shit you saw in the picture above shouldn’t exist by the end of this year. We’re currently trying to find funding for immediate short term works – we need a bulldozer and a front-end loader to shift the existing waste, to institute a systematic regime of compaction, and to ensure that there’s a clear route to a working face within the dumpsite. I’m quite hopeful we’ll get the funding for that equipment pretty soon, and that by the end of 2019 when I leave Freetown, Kingtom will be a controlled dumpsite, maybe with a recycling facility, without lakes of raw sewage.

This is just one aspect of what the Mayor will have achieved in her first year in office.

Not all sadness and hard work

We had a really fun TBI away day in February up country in a place called Njele where my colleague Harold went to university.  This was right in the middle of dry season (it rained 2 weeks ago for the first time since October) so things were a little dusty and Wild West feeling, but it can be seen that we are the coolest team in development nevertheless:

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We stayed in the university accommodation so the canteen was cooking for us.  For dinner, they gave us a card with our names down the left hand side – 10 of us – and three columns where we could mark whether we wanted chicken, fish or vegetables.  When we got our dinner while we were having several much-deserved beers, there were only 6 meals served.  Why was this? After a certain amount of confusion in which we maintained that we had definitely all made our choice on the card, and they maintained that we had only ordered 6 dinners, we got hold of the card.  The problem was that some of us had put ticks in a column,  and some of us had put crosses. And obviously what the crosses meant was that we didn’t want any dinner at all, but definitely not chicken.  It was all entirely our own fault.

My colleague Matt has the best collection of amusing keke slogan photos (see prev post) in the known world.  So he’s done the natural thing which is to set up an Instagram account – you all need #akekeaday.  He’s also taken it one step further.  Matt and Tessa are setting up a business/fun project called the Keke Convoy (a social enterprise), which currently has two beautiful kekes.  The Keke Convoy will come to your house party or event and one keke will serve delicious fish tacos and one will serve delicious cocktails and cold beer. Eventually there will be a third keke with speakers so that your food and drink will come with tunes.

Tokeh beach is still beautiful and still a balm to the soul.

I bought a car!  It’s excellent – enormous and now I can zip around Freetown, driving on the right and avoiding kekes, buses, bikes, taxis, people, dogs and some other cars, whenever I like!

And people have been to visit me!  Pete came to visit!  Charley came to visit!  And my Dad came to visit – in fact he’s here right now.

Soon it will be time for a sundowner beer and a stroll along the beach.  Missing everyone like mad and sending best love to all.

*I wasn’t allowed to call it the Waste Management (Lucy Garrett) Regulations 2019.

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