Members of the Kings County delegation, including economic development specialist Suzanne McCrimmon (left), councillor Emma Van Rooyen (third from right) and Valley Waste Resource Management policy coordinator Brian VanRooyen met with officials in Battambang as part of a recent Federation of Canadian Municipalities partnership mission to Cambodia. – Submitted
By Kirk Starratt
Their challenge was to offer something valuable, yet affordable, to help the people of Battambang, Cambodia manage waste.
Valley Waste Resource Management policy co-ordinator Brian VanRooyen has been involved with the County of Kings partnership program with Cambodia, since it began five years ago. He said their options when they began to work with staff and elected officials in Battambang were quite limited.
The city was an unincorporated district administered by the national government until about two years ago. The only elected officials were local community councillors. There are 10 such communities, called Sangkats, in Battambang.
“Both at the city level and the Sangkat level, they have very limited means of raising revenue,” VanRooyen said. “There is still no property tax system in Battambang.”
With nearly no budget, they could potentially seek funding from foreign government aid organizations, a common funding mechanism in Cambodia, or find private funding. The national government has limited funds and is unable to support modern waste management programs.
In the end, they provided a combination of a train-the-trainer workshop and some one-time funding for supporting actions that was raised locally in Kings County and from the municipality, as well as some funding from the federation.
The workshop trained local Sangkat officials in environmental sustainability and respect for the environment.
“We were fortunate to find excellent ready-made materials online produced by an Australian NGO (non-government organization),” VanRooyen said. “The major problem we were trying to address was litter and illegal dumping.”
People were dumping waste indiscriminately in empty lots and on riverbanks. Waste was being burned all over town, even in schoolyards. There was a waste collection service, he said, but it wasn’t adequate to deal with the dumping. Money raised in Nova Scotia was used to support city-wide cleanups conducted by high school and university students.
Local officials held public meetings in communities using the training materials provided by the Kings delegation. They worked with the waste collection contractor to improve service. Some of the money raised was used for no-dumping signage and warning signs that illegal dumpers could be fined.
“The results of this activity over 18 to 24 months was a distinct improvement in the appearance of the community,” VanRooyen said.
The main dumping areas were cleaned up. With an improved service, one they have to directly pay the collector for, more people were willing to set out their waste to be picked up.
VanRooyen said Battambang is now embarking on a plan with two neighbouring municipal districts to promote their tourism assets. They hope to capitalize on the millions of tourists who come to Cambodia each year to visit Angkor Wat, which is about two hours away. VanRooyen said a clean environment is a foundational element in a successful tourism plan.
The goal of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities partnership program is to help out developing countries. This is accomplished by creating relationships between Canadian municipal staff and elected officials with experience and expertise to share and their counterparts in developing countries.