By Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 31, 2009 - Local leaders met with members of the Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team at the city's trash dump July 23 to assess the progress of a month-long project to facilitate the mass cleanup of trash. The government hired local civilian contractors to assist in cleaning up and transporting Basra province's overwhelming volume of accumulated trash for the recently launched project.
"The municipality and the contractors are working together to clean up the city," said Majed, the provincial reconstruction team coordinator with the Basra municipality. "One of the governor's main priorities is cleaning up the city. The [team] wanted to help with this issue, and they suggested this project to the municipality.
"There are six Iraqi contractors to collect the garbage from the main six regions of Basra," Majed continued. "Each contractor has about a hundred trucks, and they are working daily."
The contractors are paid for the amount of trash they deliver, rather than a fixed price for their district, added Army Maj. Stanley Hutchison, chief of the brigade's project management team. "The harder they work, the more money they receive," he said.
This approach creates a sense of competition and provides greater guarantees the work gets done, Hutchison said, noting that the sheer amount of trash being delivered shows a tremendous amount of progress for the province's waste management efforts. "There's been an average of 1,000 to 1,500 workers delivering four to six loads per day to the dump site," he said.
The brigade has provided $2.8 million to fund this phase of the cleanup, and since the project uses local contractors and laborers, it also helps to stimulate the local economy, the major said.
Basra Gov. Sheltag Aboud al-Mayah said that once the city is clean, the intent is to keep it that way. "After we finish our cleaning campaign this month, the municipality will resume its normal duties to make the job sustainable and keep the province clean," he said.
The provincial reconstruction team and the 2nd Brigade have been working with the local government on a number of ongoing cleanup projects since June, including cleaning the canals and roadsides, clearing the province of scrap-metal piles, repairing the trash collection fleet and providing trash containers to residences and businesses, with additional receptacles throughout the city, Hutchison said.
Provincial government officials are determined not to get bogged down by so much trash again. After years of citizens being forced to dump trash alongside the roads or in open spaces between homes, the government is working on educating the people and working to break such habits through its cleanup campaign and providing trash receptacles and collection services. Eventually, citizens may be fined for littering to help in keeping the province clean, he added.
"Cleaning up the province will reawaken pride in Basra for many," said Hassan, a truck driver.
"Getting rid of the trash not only helps the way the province looks," Basra's governor noted, "but it benefits the condition and health of the population."
Hutchison agreed. "Right now, you have kids playing day to day in trash or scrap metal piles," he said. "One way to attack diseases is to pick up the trash, then take care of sewage and water problems. Picking up the trash is the first step so the other issues can be adequately taken care of."
The huge piles of trash and scrap metal conceal problems and prevent repairs to other essential service projects, such as water, electricity and sewage, Hutchison added, and trash keeps necessary investments from coming into the region.
"Right now, trash is a hindrance in a lot of areas throughout the province, restricting the amount of land resources available and impeding investors coming in with jobs for the citizens," he said.
The governor acknowledged that many obstacles remain to be tackled in Basra before the quality of life for the people is where it should be, but he emphasized much progress has been made in a short time. He thanked the provincial reconstruction team, the 2nd Brigade and the American government for their assistance in Basra.
"With help from our friends of other nations, we can overcome all these obstacles and challenges," he said. "We can put all our efforts forward together, and they will be fruitful."
(Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)