After – tsunami waste management: a global problem

We are getting close to March 11, 2012, the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Fukushima, Japan. Unprecedented pictures and videos are definitely still through our eyes and minds whenever we remember the M 9.0 earthquake that hit the coast of Honshu, Japan's most populous island near Sendai, the capital city of Miyagi Prefecture, on March 11, 2011 at 05:46:23 UTC (roughly 231 miles Northeast of Tokyo).

More than 16.000 dead people, hundreds of billion dollars infrastructure damages and a very serious leak of nuclear radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant were the main direct consequences of this catastrophic event.

From a waste management point of view, there is still a huge problem regarding the million tons of waste, mainly debris but including a lot of hazardous waste too, that were created during the tsunami strike. Just to have an idea of the disaster, only in Sendai city there is more than one million tons of waste wiring to be removed and managed during the next 3 years. The cleanup is expected to cost at least $1.3 billion!

Just imagine the overall quantity of debris is expected to be more or less around 25 million tons. As for the overall cost, it is expected to far exceed the $3.2 billion required to dispose of 15 million tons of debris in the Japanese city of Kobe after its 1995 earthquake.

A second problem, with really global dimensions is related to the mass of debris that was washed out to sea as floodwaters receded from the land, and some of that wreckage continues to float around the ocean.
According to a recent report by the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center ( IPRC), so far, the debris field has spread in an area that is approaching 4,000km by 2,000km.
It is estimated that more than a million tons of waste are floating and most of it is headed eastwards, moved by the Kuroshio Current, the North Pacific equivalent of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic.
IPRC creates daily updates of the debris movement through Pacific Ocean(see tracking debris).
 Updates are provided by extensive modeling work led by Nikolai Maximenko. According all estimations more than 90% of the tsunami debris that has not sunk will move into the North Pacific "Garbage Patch", a long-lived circulation of floating rubbish trapped by the North Pacific Gyre.
I think that there are three comments, related to waste management that we can make in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami.
First, although in Japan there is one of the most advanced waste management systems in the world, current systems and technologies were simply inappropriate to manage the astonishing quantities of waste produced by the tsunami.  
Second, please imagine what will be the consequences if the earthquake target was not Japan, but another country with less technologies and resources available, maybe characterized by poverty and low living standards. And definitely, such disasters can be also produced not only by earthquakes but from extreme weather phenomena as well, as it is the aftermath of the New Orleans’ disaster.
Third, the floating tsunami debris is one more alarming signal for the need to manage the ocean garbage problem. If we simply wait for a magic solution that will suddenly appear, the problem will be more and more difficult to be solved and the cost will be really prohibitive.
It seems that we need to do much more in order to create waste management emergency responses to events that create really global impacts! The global waste management community has to start an intensive collaboration in order to create networks and cooperation patterns that will allow the management of debris in such extreme phenomena and not only. The only thing that will be an appropriate response to the gigantic natural forces that create such disasters is the power of the massive collaboration of human beings, through a variety of different channels. Let’s do it…


Asbestos: A verdict with worldwide consequences!

It was February 14th, 2012, when a historic decision was made by an Italian Court in Turin.

After a 12 years legal procedure and investigation, Stephan Schmidheiny (65 years old), owner of the Swiss-Belgian industrial group Eternit (ETEX), which was in turn a major shareholder of the Italian subsidiary of Eternit between 1976 and 1986 and the Belgian Baron Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne (90 years old), who was a director and minority shareholder of Eternit Italy, they were both sentenced to 16 years prison by an Italian court in Turin. 

Of course the verdicts are not effective until final, meaning the defendants have the right to go to a Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court before they must undergo their verdicts.
Schmidheiny and Cartier de Marchienneare considered responsible for the death of 3.000 Italians, including employees, family members and other persons in the vicinity of Eternit’s four factories in Italy. Each of them is entitled to compensations of 95 million € for victims and their families, municipalities and regional authorities, independently of the compensations that the company will be entitled.

The initial investigation started in 1999, after victims’ associations, municipalities involved (Casale Monferatto and Cavagnolo), regional authorities (Piemonte) trade unions and insurers filed a case against the company and its responsible directors.

If you want to find full details of the case, please visit the dedicated blog asbestos in the dock 

I really believe that this is verdict with global consequences.

As far as I know this is the first decision that recognizes so serious and huge consequences of inappropriate solid waste management! It creates new standards about what should be considered safe and environmental sound working environment and about environmental impacts to the neighborhoods.

It also recognizes the importance of the time horizon: inappropriate solid waste management creates serious environmental and health impacts for decades after the completion of waste management activities!

Last but not least, the case is very important because through web – connections and blogs it was globally followed by almost sixty asbestos victims associations. The efforts of the Italian association were fully supported by top experts from different countries, asbestos lawyers shared crucial information on a global scale and the international asbestos community became stronger and more connected. The case will allow asbestos victims worldwide to gain access to evidence that was previously either unknown or simply unavailable.

I think that the waste management community has to celebrate about that decision. And decision – makers, governments, municipalities, operators and companies have to re-think the importance they give (or do not give) to waste management procedures and activities…


Emerging waste management systems: ISWA/APESB conference in Angola, June 25-28, 2012

We are all aware of the importance of waste management in developing countries. Even more, we are all aware of the fact that the countries who need desparately appropriate waste management services and infrastructure in order to provide an elementary level of health and environmental protection are the ones who do not and sometimes can not have them, because they are trapped in the environment - poverty nexus.

But this has already started to change in Africa.

I was very glad to join efforts with my friend Mario Russo (the actual leader of the initiative) and other friends worldwide for the first ISWA event in Africa.

 Lobito, a beautiful city of the Benguela Province of Angola hosts the first International AFRICA Sustainable Waste Management Conference, an event organized by ISWA together with APESB (Association of Portuguese Sanitary and Environmental Engineering) and CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries) with the high sponsorship of the government of Angola. It is the first time that an event in this field is organized by ISWA in Africa. It is an opportunity to share experiences with African technicians and decision makers helping them to search out for appropriated solutions for various and specific cultural, finance and technological contexts.

Angola is one of the most important countries of Africa located on the West coast of Southern Africa. It extends over an area of 1 246 700 Km2.

The economy of Angola is based in oil production. In fact, this sector makes up over 90% of the Country’s exports. Angola is currently the second oil producer of Africa with 1.8 million b/d output, and it is expected that by next year it will overtake Nigeria, with a current output of 2.3 million b/d. Second to oil, diamonds are Angola’s main export product. The country is growing up more than 7% per year and many investments are announced by government in the waste sector, sanitation and construction sector.

Lobito is an important city in the Angolan context, quite calm safe and nice city with about 450.000 inhabitants. Located in the center of the country, is a very touristic city, with wonderful beaches and surroundings. Near the city, about 17 km, Benguela is the capital of the province, also a nice city. Both cities were improved related to accommodations and other touristic infrastructures due to the organization of the CAN 2009 (African Football championship) by Angola and are ready and enthusiastically to receive this important congress.

Join us for this interesting event, definitely you will meet very interesting people and a state - of the - art scientific program. For more details please visit the conference's web-site Africa Sustainable Waste Management Conference


Greek Rescue: are you kidding?

I closed my previous post (Greece’s collapse and the EU Titanic) writing that “As far as Germany, the captain of the Titanic, does not change its behavior, even if Greeks manage to do their best, they will manage to collapse as first class passengers”.

Well, I was wrong. According the discussions between troika and the greek goverment even if Greeks do their best they are going to collapse in extreme poverty. Because here are the terms and conditions offered by Germany (and consequently EU) and IMF (apologies for not listing other actors like the French and the Dutch prime minister – they are simply members of the cast with secondary roles).

The rescue package consists of a new 130 billions € loan, which will replace the almost 80 billions € that will be cut by the “haircut” applied to private sector debt holders. Actually the Greek debt will be much higher as soon as the “Rescue package” will be agreed. Someone could say that’s fine because the new bonds will be with a better interest rate and with longer pay-back period. But this is just the top of the iceberg, because the new bonds will be ruled by the British Law and not (as the current ones) by the Greek law, which means that any haircut will be almost impossible. So Greece will exchange 80 billions € of debt controlled by the Greek Law with 130 billions € of debt controlled by the British Law!

Even so, I could discuss such an investment made by our European partners as a form of support to a struggling economy. But it is really disgusting to notice that during last 40 days, every time the Greek government was close to finalize an agreement with the so called Troika (EU, ECB and IMF representatives), the Troika put new terms and conditions, worst than it has asked 10 days ago.
Such a behavior can be explained in only one way:  it seems that Troika’s order was to test the limits of our society and make an agreement not as a partner but as a financial Dictator.

This has resulted to unbelievable terms and conditions offered and not negotiated. Here are some of them:
  • 20% reduction of the minimum salary, which will drive in a downward spiral all salaries and will make recession much deeper
  • 25% reduction in all pensions, which are already very low in most of the cases
  • Massive and blind dismissals through the public sector which will boost unemployment from 18% to 25%

And the best: 95% of the new 130 billion € bailout will be used just to ensure pay-back of the new and the remaining (after the rescue) loans! Merkozy proposed that a specially supervised bank account should be used in order to ensure that no money of the bailout funds will be used for non-approved activities like pensions, education and healthcare system.

Well, I am not complaining – the blame is put firstly to the ridiculous and completely incapable Greek political system, but also to all of us who finally left our country to become a pariah like this. We have to find the way out of the crisis and we will do it, sooner or later. After all, we have survived during much more difficult periods and we still have huge resources of creativity and imagination. And last year, we managed to have a primary budgetary surplus, for the first time after many years.

Burning German flags
outside the  Greek  Parliament (7/2/2012)
But on the other hand, I do not believe that the only way out of the current Euro crisis is to drive some societies to collapse.  I wonder if the EU officers and politicians do understand that they create long-term anti – EU feelings and feed nationalist movements. I revolt when I understand that Banks are above all, the top-priority of the EU policy. And I understand that the recent humiliations against Greece are a clever way to draw our attention away of the real problem: the banking system that is the real cancer of Europe.

I believe that Greece has no other option than to make an agreement with its EU partners. This agreement will create huge negative long-term impacts to Greek society, but who knows, maybe EU policies will change later. If this will not happen, Germany and its colleagues create the playground to push Greece (and not only) out the Eurozone, in order to secure their economies.

I have to say that they will be proved wrong once again.

Two years ago, they fought against any “haircut” option. Now they are obliged to do it.

One year ago, they were predicting the success of the austerity programs applied to Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Now they admit that they are not enough and new rescue plans are required.

Few months ago, at the end of October 2011, they said (more or less) the crisis is over because they found out a long-term solution regarding Euro debt crisis. Two weeks later the markets sent Euro at the bottom and few weeks later France (and others) lost the AAA rating.

Simply, you can’t stop a fire just closing the door of the room which is on – fire.

As it was written recently (7/2/2012) in Spiegel:

“But it is already clear that this aid package will not save the country. It appears it will only delay a Greek insolvency -- and it will serve to create new hardships for the country's population. It is time for politicians to admit that their carrot and stick strategy has failed. The idea that the country can be freed from its debt quagmire though austerity programs and aid pledges tied to conditions just isn't going to work. It won't even work if private creditors forgive part of the country's debt”.

By the way, the title of the above mentioned article was “It's Time to End the Greek Rescue Farce”.


Greece's collapse and the EU Titanic

The Greek drama is going to its end within next 30 – 50 days. And as it is well known from the ancient Greek drama, no matter if the end will be a happy one, the major messages have already sent and their importance is global.  

Greeks themselves have done a lot of nasty things that resulted in today’s drama. An incapable political system, corruption, nepotism, a useless growth of public sector, tax evasion, and a spirit of “making money with the less or even no effort” have been some of the characteristics of our society for the last 10 years.   But still, most of the society and especially the private sector work a lot, much more than the EU average. As for social benefits, the Greek welfare state simply never happened.

A lot of infrastructure has been delivered using EU funds, but also a lot of money has been spent for “white elephants” that were used just for 15 days during Athens Olympic Games and now they are hanging around as symbols of an incapable state. And decades of billions are spent on a permanent basis for new weapons (aircrafts, submarines, armored vehicles etc.) in order to keep a high level of army readiness against the possibility of a war with Turkey. USA, Germany and France together control around 90% of the Greek army supplies.

Even so, all the previous are not enough to explain the Greek tragedy today. The real problem is much more than a Greek one.

Allow me to start with some stereotypes that create a lot of confusion. Those stereotypes are repeatedly used by international press, in some cases just due to ignorance and in other cases on purpose.

Stereotype 1: Greece will collapse because it does not follow the rules that IMF and EU are insisting to be applied. I know a couple of other countries like Portugal and Ireland that are applying the rules with religious dedication and much more social consensus than Greece. But unfortunately they are very close to collapse too – needless to remind you that Ireland collapsed in 2008 just few months after  a storm of articles that praised its competitive and open economy that was built as the rules said. And I can also add a lot of other European countries that are not so close to collapse but they are not so far too, independently of their compliance with IMF and EU rules.  

Let me put it in another way. Do we know any country around the world where the application of the rules proposed by IMF and EU for my country (25% reduction in private sector salaries, massive privatizations of everything that has value, collapse of the public utilities, and austerity until death etc.) has resulted in good results? I do not think so.

Stereotype 2: Greek governments did not implement the specific measures IMF and EU have proposed and this is why the situation goes worst. In fact, what happened is rather the opposite. Greek governments said yes to everything that was proposed (as everyone knows there was no negotiation at all) and applied all major suggestions: they increased VAT from 11 to 23% (which killed the tourist sector), they cut salaries in public sector by 20%, the average private sector salary reduction is about 25%, they increased the direct and indirect taxes to unbelievable levels, they cut pensions from 20 to 50%! Of course the tax system was not reformed and privatizations were not promoted as IMF and EU wanted. But this was practically impossible with the public sector on strikes and the society in demonstrations.

What was the result of the bold plan that EU and IMF suggested? An 18% unemployment rate and thousands of young people searching to migrate. Also, a 10% reduction of the National Gross Domestic Product. As a result, there is a substantial increase of current-account deficit and the debt as percentages of GDP. As ECONOMIST magazine wrote in its last issue (January 28th ) the proposed plan simply it is not working!

Stereotype 3: I heard someone saying that German tax payers (and not only) have already paid a lot to support Greece. This is much more than a lie. It is an upside – down of the reality.
In fact Greece has taken no money for free during last years from any European or other country. Greece borrows money with 5% interest from Germany and Germany borrows money with 0.5% from the markets. That’s really a good investment, right?

Everything is clearly written in thousands of papers in Internet. Event the European Task Force that has arrived to Athens in order to support Greek reforms is not working for free. Recently, an officer from Brussels informed me that France and Germany will be paid by EU in order to provide their technical support.

Stereotype 4:  It is a debt crisis not a crisis of Euro. This is the favorite of Merkel. Unfortunately, she is one of the very few that understand it that way. Still Germany has all the power to create a media campaign to promote its position, but the reality doesn’t change. Greek debt is just the cherry upon the pie. The pie is Euro problems: lack of EU-wide tools for common fiscal policies, absence of any coordinating mechanism related to tax issues, myopic competitiveness management by Germans and most of all a completely incapable political leadership for the last 10 years. All those have transformed Euro from the most ambitious experiment in Europe to the worst nightmare.

Well, the truth is that Greece is the weakest link of a very weak European chain. And no matter what will be the future of Greece, inside or outside the Euro Zone, the weakness of EU will not change. EU goes like the Titanic towards the iceberg, although the iceberg was visible for more than 3 years now.

But the captain (in this case Germany) shouts that it will leave the boat first unless everyone on board agree and obey to its demands. This is a no way - out situation.

We do not know if there is still time to save the boat, even if we all agree to captain’s rude orders. And the captain knows well (I hope) that out of the boat it has no chance to survive in the global ocean.

Greeks must work hardly to change their own society and make it more competitive and productive. They have to make it business – attractive in order to fight unemployment. They have to transform their political and administrative system; they have to clear out corruption and nepotism; they have to create a fare tax system. They also have to keep education and health-care services alive and provide a minimum social support to the poorer part of the society.  

Bu I really doubt if all of them can be implemented with the current behavior of IMF and EU. As far as Germany, the captain of the Titanic, does not change its behavior, even if Greeks manage to do their best, they will manage to collapse as first class passengers. Not so attractive and inspiring…