As we continue our efforts to improve the waste management system in Wandoor, one of the biggest roadblocks that we can’t seem to get around is the equipment and machines on which the system depends. Whether it is an incinerator to burn sanitary waste, a baling machine to compress the segregated waste or an electric vehicle which sanitation workers use to collect waste from across the village – a problem in any single one of these would ideally turn the system upside down. We found all three machines to be defective and not optimally functioning in Wandoor and without any options for repair. What we found was that most of these machines were mass-procured for all SWM clusters in the Andaman Islands, without proper maintenance and repair agreements with the manufacturers. While some of these machines had initial annual maintenance contracts, they were not renewed in time. Without an agreement in place, no company wants to send their technician across the sea to look at the faulty machines in the Islands and local technicians are not confident enough to repair them. The machines gather rust and the system struggles.
When the e-cart at Wandoor broke down, we decided to do something about this. We reached out to the manufacturer and discussed the possibility of bringing a technician to the islands. With the help of the Rural Development Department, we contacted four other Gram Panchayats in South Andaman who were facing problems with their e-carts. After a lot of discussions with all these Panchayats and the manufacturer, we planned a 4-day visit for the technician between 9th to 13th October. During this visit, the technician visited some of the Panchayats to diagnose the problem in their machines. On 13th October, we organised a training session on e-cart repairing at Wandoor which was attended by sanitation workers and local electricians from all four Gram Panchayats.
Sadly, though the e-cart at Wandoor was repaired by the technician and was working fine, it soon developed new problems with its battery. The e-cart will need further push to be fully functional again. However, through this visit and training, we expect that the sanitation supervisors and local electricians of these four panchayats will be better able to check and diagnose the problem in their electric vehicles and will use the newly established line of communication with the manufacturer for future consultation on solutions. Given the frequency with which issues arise in equipment and the logistical issues associated with working in the islands, it is imperative that we set up well-thought contingency plans for situations when infrastructure requires replacement or repair.
At the end of this training, we had a concluding session where we distributed cycles, air pumps, raincoats and safety gloves to the sanitation workers of Wandoor. The cycles will help increase the workers’ mobility, especially in times when their e-cart is not working. The maintenance of the cycles has to be done by the Panchayat. The raincoat and cut-resistant gloves are essential assets for sanitation workers who continue working, in sun and rain and handle different types of hazardous waste daily.
Change is slow to come, but we hope that our small efforts will encourage the administration and community leaders to work together to solve small problems which go a long way towards increasing the efficiency of the system and improving the well-being of people involved in the work.