Published on Sustainable Cities

What does waste management have to do with reducing crime and violence in Jamaica?

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Landfill in JamaicaUp until recently, if someone asked us what the most important benefits of solid waste management were, we would have said improving public health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or helping with drainage in cities.

When we landed in Kingston a couple months ago to prepare for the Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP), we became aware of another benefit of improving solid waste management: reducing crime.  We found that uncollected bulky waste such as laundry machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, and tree stumps could be used to block roads – and that glass bottles and other waste could be used as weapons.

Boy carrying waste, JamaicaDue to inadequate waste collection services, some inner city communities simply dump their daily waste and leave old laundry machines, cars, and air conditioners in open lots for many years.  In 2010, when there were riots in Kingston, these large waste items were used to block off a community’s entrance and prevented police from accessing high-crime spots. This event provided a lesson to local authorities on the importance of keeping communities free of waste to reduce crime and violence. As a consequence, the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) began focusing its efforts on removing large waste items from Kingston communities.

Boy dumping waste in canal, JamaicaMany people are familiar with how former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani followed the “broken windows” theory to reduce crime and help make the city safer. The theory is that if a neighborhood has many broken windows, this creates a perception of abandonment and fear leading to more broken windows and violence. People will not feel as safe walking through a neighborhood where they feel like crime is prevalent due to visual cues that could be seen as opportunities for criminals.

A previous World Bank project in Jamaica that closed in 2013 used a similar approach which will be used again in the new ICDP.  In addition to directly tackling social issues, these two projects focus on cleanliness and beautification in high crime neighborhoods to reduce the perception of fear.

Waste in canal, JamaicaOne of the major issues that contributes to the degradation of solid waste services in poor communities in Kingston is the lack of capacity of the NSWMA to collect from the entire city as well as the inaccessibility of these high crime communities. Under the previous project, some communities benefited from solid waste infrastructure, such as dumpsters, and NSWMA benefited from new trucks to improve the service.  However, the lack of ownership by the communities in some areas has limited the improvement of cleanliness and use of infrastructure in some communities.

To increase community participation and improve waste collection services, the new project will link incentives with results -- NSWMA will get two trucks over five years if they pick up waste regularly from selected inner city communities.

Canal in JamaicaCommunity organizations and full-time neighborhood environmental wardens will receive financial incentives if they can motivate communities to clean up their neighborhoods, deposit their waste into dumpsters, and separate out their recyclables and organics.

This results-based financing approach has been pioneered as a successful development financing strategy by the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid to provide payment based on achieving pre-determined performance goals. They have largely focused on the water, education, health, energy sectors and more recently in the solid waste sector.

Raising awareness and getting communities involved in beautifying and cleaning up their neighborhood holds the key to managing solid waste and crime. The new results-based approach, over a multi-year period, can help encourage people to start thinking and acting differently in how they manage their waste locally to take ownership of their community. We hope that combined with better waste collection services, this can contribute to lower crime and violence.

Photo credits: Silpa Kaza, 2014.


Silpa Kaza

Urban Development Specialist, World Bank

Farouk Banna

Environmental Engineer

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