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Overcoming fragility: The long and successful journey towards sustainable solid waste management in the northern West Bank

Farouk Banna's picture

Last month, I paid a visit to the Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill located 18 km south of Jenin City in the northern West Bank. I was impressed with the status of solid waste management in this part of the West Bank and inspired by how various local governments were cooperating despite the volatile political environment.


The Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill near Jenin in the West Bank (Photo by Farouk Banna)

When I arrived in Jenin on the morning of January 29, the head of the Joint Service Council (JSC) and his staff welcomed me and took me up to the education center located atop the building. This room provides an extraordinary aerial view of the landfill.

The room contains material for public education, comprising PowerPoint presentations, videos and a 3D model of the landfill.  Many visitors, including students, donors and others - come to the center to learn about Jenin’s  journey towards a sustainable solid waste system.

With such an impressive waste management system, I could hardly believe that prior to 2000, the Northern West Bank was infamous for the poor quality of its waste collection system and improper disposal.

There was no separation of medical and hazardous waste from regular household waste, which were disposed of together in uncontrolled dumpsites. Open burning of waste was a common practice. Solid waste was randomly dumped in open lots, along road sides, and in more than 85 unsanitary dumpsites spread across villages.

These practices posed a direct risk to public health due to toxic leachate generated by the open dumps, which infiltrated the groundwater aquifers that provide the main source of water supply to the area. Improper management of solid waste also had an economic impact; it was one of the major barriers to the development of the local tourism.

Between 2000 and 2009, through the Solid Waste and Environmental Management Project (SWEMP) supported by the World Bank and other donors, the dumpsites were closed and rehabilitated. The second Intifada which left more than 3,000 Palestinians, 1,000 Israelis, and 64 foreigners dead delayed implementation – but the project overcame these challenges and addressed institutional weakness through the creation of a Joint Service Council for Jenin (Jenin JSC) to manage the solid waste sector.

The Zahrat Al-Finjan sanitary landfill, which I visited, was another key achievement of the project. It became operational in July 2007 to replace the unsanitary dumpsites.  It was constructed with a bottom liner comprising a layer of geomembrane and geocomposite clay liner (GCL) to prevent groundwater contamination by leachate.  The leachate is collected and conveyed into two leachate ponds for treatment.  The JSC performs regular sampling of surface and groundwater, which is sent to an environmental laboratory for analysis to ensure that there is no accidental contamination of groundwater.

In addition to the management of the landfill, the JSC has gradually taken over the primary collection of waste from municipal and village councils to consolidate the operation and make it more efficient. The JSC’s comprehensive collection system utilizes fewer vehicles with more efficient routings, allowing expansion of service coverage. Municipal and village councils are still in charge of solid waste fee collection in their respective jurisdictions, to pay their dues to JSC. The waste fee is generally attached to electricity bills, which enables the municipalities to achieve a high rate of collection.

Recycling and valorization of waste are also an integral part of the new waste management system. Through a partnership with a private sector firm, a recycling plant has been installed on top of the landfill to recover plastic bottles, cans, cardboard and metal for sale. This will provide additional revenue for JSC, and support local entrepreneurship.  It also helps to extend the life of the landfill.

Since the creation of the new JSC and the opening of the sanitary landfill, waste management in the northern West Bank has steadily improved.  From 85 unsanitary dumpsites in 2000, the waste is now consolidated into a single disposal site equipped with the necessary environmental safeguards to prevent the waste from becoming nuisance to the surrounding environment.

The economic benefit of the improved system is felt at many levels, and the value of land surrounding the rehabilitated dumpsites has doubled or even tripled.  As the only sanitary landfill operational in the West Bank to date, the Zahrat Al-Finjan landfill has seen its coverage area expand to serve all five governorates that comprise the northern West Bank (population 600,000).  This increase in tonnage is generating additional revenue to support the operation of the site but also fosters partnerships among the various local governments.

The successful journey towards sustainable waste management in the northern West Bank is the result of the political will of the various local government entities, collaborating to address the problem in a holistic manner.  This experience has inspired a similar project in the southern West Bank, where a second sanitary landfill has recently been constructed near Al-Minya and will soon be operational to provide environmentally-sound waste disposal to the governorates of Hebron and Bethlehem.