Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's not the Heat... It's the Humidity

I think that statement should be revised to read "It's the heat AND the humidity".

Hot season is definitely in full swing and the daily temperature average is expected to continue to rise. Yesterday it was 116 degrees F in my village... in the shade. Good news is it's not terribly humid... only about 72% humidity or so.

But that doesn't stop me from sweating while doing the simplest of tasks. Sleep, sweat. Wake up, sweat. Eat breakfast, sweat more because I'm cooking inside. Run an errand across village, loose a quart. Take a nap after lunch, shake off afterward. Sometimes I think my sweat is actually sweating as well. This is all terribly taxing on my integumentary system (which contains the skin and sweat glands).

I'm guessing right now I go through at least 4 liters of water a day. This makes for a somewhat vicious cycle as well because it means I am drinking more water than I used to every day, which means more trips to the pump, which means more sweating, which means more drinking, which means more trips to the pump, etc., etc.

All this sweating also means that I need to make sure I am getting enough electrolytes. Especially if I do something physically strenuous like make a 35 km round trip to my market town or help cast several hundred concrete blocks for a new well that's being put in at the school.

I have found changing clothes throughout the day is also smart... and not simply to avoid that "soggy" feeling. Wearing damp clothing in temperatures like these is a good way to develop heat rash or other skin maladies.

While it is definitely hot, it's not unbearable. I've gotten used to things by now. If anything it's more of an annoyance. Manual laborers only work about four hours a day now because it's so hot during mid-day. This means construction projects take longer to complete, and right now I'm trying to get two wells put in before May 1st. Easier said than done I'm finding out.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Messy Situation

**Warning: This entry is going to contain more engineering lingo than the average lay person hears in a lifetime. Prepare to learn something.

I went to the Segou mayor's office the other day with another Volunteer and a PC water/sanitation program assistant to discuss the possibility of a wat/san Volunteer working for the city in the future. Specifically, the mayor wants a Volunteer to help the city deal with trash. Segou used to be known as "the cleanest city in Mali", but now that it has become home to over 100,000 people... without much improvement to the city's waste management infrastructure... things have become somewhat messy. This is a concern to the mayor because a lot of tourists come through Segou, so first impressions are important.

Our discussion with the mayor taught me a lot about waste management in Mali and showed me that things here work about the same as in the US (with the exception that environmental hazards aren't considered). The waste stream has the same beginning... someone's house. From there, garbage men come with a donkey cart, pick up the trash, and take it to one of several trash depots (transfer stations) throughout the city. These depots are simply vacant lots where trash is dumped. There is no fencing to enclose the land, and no sort of impermeable clay or concrete "floor" to prevent hazardous liquids from seeping into the ground, which results in soil and groundwater contamination. There also aren't any restrictions or separations to remove certain hazardous materials such as car batteries, pharmaceuticals, oils, industrial wastes, or leftover mayonnaise.

From the depots, city dump trucks take the waste to a landfill several kilometers outside of town. At present, the "landfill" the city uses is actually an old excavation from a large building project that was never finished. Essentially it's a giant hole in the ground that is being filled with trash. There is no sort of impermeable layer to prevent environmental contamination. The good news is that the area is elevated enough that it doesn't experience flooding during the rainy season. That would mean all kinds of nastiness spilling out all over the place. However, since the waste is being put in a depression, all the rain that falls on the "landfill" gets soaked into the ground with whatever goodies it has managed to wash off.

The good news is that the city is currently building a new landfill about 12 km outside of town. The bad news is that they've run out of money and can't finish the project. I have no details on the design specifics of that project.

With this said, the city currently has several problems with waste management. There is trash everywhere! There are several reasons for this. One is that the population of the city has grown tremendously in the past few decades. This means a lot of people now live in Segou who are not traditionally from the area, and thus do not have the same attachment to the city as older residents. Many of these people come from villages where having trash laying all over the place is the norm, so they don't place as much importance on waste removal.

Another problem is that many people don't pay for trash pick up. They are supposed to, but don't. As a result, the garbage men don't come and people begin throwing trash in the streets. The system for collecting fees is also very inefficient and poorly set up, so many people are able to avoid paying for service. The result is that the city is short on funds.

Being short on funds means the city can't afford to pay all the personnel they need and there no money to make repairs to vehicles when they break. The mayor is also unwilling to raise taxes to solve this problem as raising taxes is not a very popular thing to do. It's also not practical to enforce payment for waste removal because if they did half the city would be in jail... this place isn't overflowing with cash.

On a slightly different note, a major liquid waste problem the city is currently facing is the failure of the city's septic tank pumping truck. There is one truck for the whole city and they can't fix it because they don't have enough money. Everyone here either has a pit latrine or septic tank. There are no piped sewers. Right now, to solve this problem, there are guys going around with tanks on donkey carts that are operated by hand crank pumps. So, the septic tanks are getting pumped, but not as quickly. And... where do you suppose the septage is dumped? Yep, you guessed it... into the river! There is a reason the PC medical officer forbids Volunteers from swimming in surface waters.

I guess the good news about all of this is that when I first came to Segou my first thought was "wow, it's so clean compared to other places in Mali". And that's still true. Despite problems, the city is still relatively clean, but something does need to be done to prevent the situation from becoming worse... and that means finding more money for the municipal government.