Background and affiliation of participants
Nine senior officers, representing MSWM institutions in Kerbala, participated in the interviews conducted during the Arba’een in 2016. The participants’ affiliations include KM, KMs and HSA. Figure 2a shows that the majority of respondents (45%) were from KM as it is considered the authority with the largest management fleet. 33% were from HSA, responsible for the collection of MSW in the central area of the city (Fig. 1). Two respondents were from KMs, in charge of MSW collection at the main entrances of the Arba'een event area (Fig. 1) (Abdulredha et al. 2017c). From Fig. 2b, it can be seen that the respondents were experienced, over half of whom with more than 7 years of involvement in MSWM. Almost all the participants had a Bachelor of Science degree, one with a Diploma qualification.
City background information
Reliable information about the background of a city (population and income level) and MSW-related data (quantity and composition) are of great importance in MSWM services planning, delivery and monitoring (Wilson et al. 2015). Respondents stated that MSW data is unavailable and has been estimated by MSWM institutions (KM, KMs, and HSA). According to CSOI (2015) and authorities’ participants, the collected MSW from Kerbala was 560 kilo tonne (kt) in 2014. Each resident produces 2.1 kg day−1, a figure which is significantly higher than the average MSW generation in other Iraqi cities (CSOI 2015) and other middle-income cities (Wilson et al. 2012). Interview respondents confirmed that large events significantly increase the amount of MSW generated in the city each year. According to the authorities’ estimations, about 80 kt of MSW is produced by large events on an annual basis. Of this, 48 kt of MSW was generated during the Arba’een in 2015. This is higher than that produced by other pilgrimages such as World Youth Day (Catholic), 490 tonnes produced by 3.7 million pilgrims over 5 days (Salt & Light 2013), by Kumbh Mela (Hindus), 300 tonnes produced by 8 million over 1 day (Gangwar and Joshi 2008), and from the Hajj event (Muslim), 17 kt produced by 3.69 million pilgrims over 5 days (Alsebaei 2014).
Table 1 provides a summary of the main components of the refuse collected during the Arba’een (Abdulredha et al. 2017c) and the refuse over the year (Al-masoudi and Al-haidary 2015). The Arba’een event MSW is comparable to the MSW normally generated in the city (Al-masoudi and Al-haidary 2015) and to the MSW produced in middle-income countries (Wilson et al. 2012). However, the Arba’een produces more organic waste (57.9%) in comparison to generated during other religious events such as Kumbh Mela (51.8%) (Gangwar and Joshi 2008) and Hajj (29.3%) (Alsebaei 2014). This high fraction of organic MSW can be attributed to the availability and variety of free food and services during the event. Paper and plastics made up 29.5% of the Arba’een refuse, which is lower than that generated during Hajj (52.6%) (Alsebaei 2014) and higher than that produced during Kumbh Mela (10.89%) (Gangwar and Joshi 2008). This can be attributed to the extensive use of packaging materials in both the Arba’een and Hajj events.
Municipal solid waste management operations
Collection and transportation
Table 2 summarises the resources employed by MSWM institutions to manage the MSW during the Arba’een in 2016. According to interviewees, institutions had more than 4000 personnel working in three shifts during the event to manage MSW. KM covered almost all of the event area (Fig. 1), with 2119 personnel (engineers, supervisors and labours), 419 pieces of equipment (collection trucks and heavy machinery) and almost 2000 storage bins (two- and four-wheeled). Figure 1 shows the jurisdiction areas for the three MSWM institutions.
According to respondents and to the author’s observations, event areas are divided into several sections to which a supervisor is assigned to plan collection truck routes, making sure that all the MSW is collected and that the collection vehicle does not leave the area until is full. A group of workers were also assigned to each section, provided with distinctive clothing, gloves and safety shoes but they are lacking regular health checks. MSWM institutions collect most of the MSW generated during, or immediately after the event ends. Collections were made from more than 70% of the event area due to a high population density and the low mobility of collection vehicles. Field observations showed that most of the generated MSW was collected, specifically in main streets, up to 8 times per day. It is then transported in medium-sized, closed vehicles to Temporary Transfer Stations (TTSs) (Fig. 1) then onwards to a landfill site in larger opened vehicles (see Fig. 3d). The TTSs are sited in residential areas which have no fencing and suffer from a lack of controlled access and general site management. MSW located in narrow or inaccessible streets was left until the end of the event. Despite the high collection frequency and support from other cities, respondents and author’s observations confirmed that there was a high incidence of MSW accumulation around the collection points, of littering and of illegal dumping due to the size of the event (Fig. 3a–c). This situation can lead to significant negative impact on the environment and public health.
Wilson et al. (2012) reported that 70–90% is the poorest collection coverage observed in several middle-income cities. During AL-Arba’een, ~ 70% of the MSW was collected and transported to the landfill, this less than that achieved during Hajj (100%) (Alsebaei 2014). In addition, a high incidence of littering, MSW accumulation around collection points, illegal dumping of MSW and improper siting and management of the TTSs was observed. This situation is similar to other large events such as Hajj (Alsebaei 2014), three open-air festivals in Germany (Cierjacks et al. 2012) and Kumbh Mela (Gangwar and Joshi 2008). Respondents attributed this to the low truck mobility due to overcrowding, inaccessible streets, blocked streets and poor planning.
Municipal solid waste treatment and disposal
The respondents and author’s field observations confirmed that landfilling is used to manage the MSW generated in Kerbala and during large events. There is one landfill site, located about 10 km south of Kerbala, which has been approved by the Directorate of Kerbala Environment (Fig. 1). This site lacks fencing, access control, proper vehicular access, site security and MSW scales (see Fig. 4a). The site is semi-controlled, operated by KM with a compactor and two bulldozers. KM does not practise appropriate environmental control schemes nor do they carry out regular inspections of the site to ensure that it does not create negative impact on the environment. Thus, the site experiences occasional outbreaks of fire, uncontrolled emissions and leachate (Figs. 4b, c). The landfill is an old quarry where the MSW is normally dumped into the grooves of the soil, compacted and occasionally covered with a thin layer of sand. The frontline staff normally wear boots, distinctive overalls and hats, but safe operating procedures and regular health checks are not in place.
The present MSW disposal practice in Kerbala is similar to several cities that host major events. For instance, the MSW generated during the Hajj event is dumped into a landfill site without control or treatment (Alsebaei 2014), while Kumbh Mela event MSW is disposed of in a site that is situated on a river bank with no segregation (Gangwar and Joshi 2008). The use of uncontrolled disposal facilities is considered a major failure compared to middle-income countries as Wilson et al. (2012) reported. Several middle-income cities have started developing state-of-the-art disposal facilities such as Kunming in China and Sousse in Tunisia.
Recycling and resources management
Scholars such as Zheng et al. (2016) and Alsebaei (2014) have stated that recycling offers a valuable alternative to increasingly expensive treatment options such as thermal treatment. However, both the interviewees’ responses and author’s field observations confirmed that formal recycling schemes do not exist in Kerbala, let alone during large events. Local institutions do not have a plan that endorses an MSWM hierarchy which should include reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery in spite of the large amounts of MSW produced in the city, particularly during religious events.
However, an active informal recycling sector has grown substantially over the last decade, scavengers sifting through and recovering recyclable material from collection points, TTSs and landfill sites (Fig. 5a, b). This sector is working on its own, as no organisation has made the effort to represent or include it within the formal MSWM system. MSWM institutions have no accurate estimates about the percentage of MSW that is recovered by this sector. However, interviewees estimated that ~ 5% of the MSW is recovered; less than 25% of this is clean and source-separated. The majority of the recovered materials are plastic, metal and paper. There are some separations of organic materials at source to reduce food MSW contamination meaning it can then be used for animal feed. The MSW recovered by scavengers is normally separated at the landfill or TTS sites for reuse or recycling, giving a useful reduction in the MSW disposed of in the landfill. Informal sector activities not only reduce the environmental burden of MSW, but also enhance economic opportunities (Masood et al. 2014). However, scavengers work in poor environmental conditions, having no appropriate clothing or equipment (e.g. safety shoes and gloves) nor an infrastructure for recycling purposes (Fig. 5b).
Although formal recycling during large events is adopted in many countries around the world such as Iran (Rafiee et al. 2018), China (Greene and Tonjes 2014) and Portugal (Martinho et al. 2018), this is not applied during the Arba’een event in Iraq and during the Hajj event in Saudi Arabia (Alsebaei 2014) and Kumbh Mela in India (Gangwar and Joshi 2008). Due to the absence of proper recycling infrastructures and planning, Kerbala still relies on informal recycling activities. Recycling rates of ~ 5% by the informal sector are significantly less than that achieved in other events such as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing of 50% (UNEP 2009) and the 1998 Del Mar Fairgrounds in California of 90% (Barber et al. 2014). However, this figure is similar to those observed in cities such as Sousse and Lusaka in other developing countries that benefit from informal sector activities (Wilson et al. 2012).
Governance aspects MSWM system
The previous section revealed that Kerbala MSWM institutions were unable to provide adequate collection, safe treatment and disposal of the MSW generated during events. Governance aspects include the degree of stakeholders’ involvement in MSWM services delivery and planning, MSWM system financial sustainability and MSWM institutional coherence all of which play an important role in the success of an MSWM system (Wilson et al. 2015).
The provision of a transparent space for stakeholders (users and non-government providers) to contribute to the planning and delivery of MSWM services significantly enhances the performance of any MSWM system (Wilson et al. 2012). Sheau-Ting et al. (2016) stated that the active participation of the MSWM system user is among the key elements which can improve MSWM services. In this regard, the authorities’ representatives agreed that public involvement in the planning, application and evaluation of MSWM services is poor. There is no well-developed mechanism or legal obligation to ensure actual public involvement at appropriate stages of the MSWM services planning and implementation process. Besides this, the institutions have weak public education programmes regarding MSWM. There is no permanent public education scheme provided by schools or colleges. Printed posters are used, but these have had a negligible impact on public behaviour. A complaint system is active whereby complaints can be registered by phone. The current poor public involvement and awareness are similar to many developing countries such as Saudi Arabia (Alsebaei 2014) and Bangladesh (Ahmed and Ali 2006). This situation can lead to lost opportunities for the improvement of the MSWM system.
Provider involvement refers to the degree to which non-governmental bodies are involved in the planning and delivery of MSWM services (Wilson et al. 2015). Interviewees recognised that both the public and private sectors are allowed to provide MSWM services within the current legal framework. Besides, a clear and transparent bidding process for MSWM services delivery is open to all organisations that are able to deliver MSWM services. Yet, there is no evidence of any non-governmental representation in this sector; therefore, it does not actively participate within MSWM services planning and delivery. There is little acknowledgement of the role played by the informal sector regarding MSWM services delivery, as illustrated by a lack of effort on behalf of city institutions to include informal and private sector in the formal MSWM system. However, other cities such as Mina (Alsebaei 2014) and Guadalajara (Wilson et al. 2015) have improved the performance of their MSWM systems through the inclusion of these sectors. This inclusion has enhanced MSW recycling rates, allowed for extended collection coverage and minimised management costs (Babaei et al. 2015).
As MSWM is one of the most expensive services (Grazhdani 2016), MSWM bodies should have a reliable source of funds to deliver an efficient MSWM service. Respondents identified that the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Public Municipalities cover most of the capital costs required for MSWM in the city. Kerbala’s local governorate also provides an extra fund to cover the cost of the management system during events. These institutions have rigorous accounting procedures in place for MSWM operational costs. However, as these accounts are not open to public scrutiny, there is no transparency or accountability. Most of the respondents believed that these institutions were able to provide more than 70% of the funds required for MSWM in the city during events but currently there is not enough capital to improve the present system. On top of this, there is no revenue generation plan; the system lacks user cost recovery such as MSW collection fees and disposal charges. Similar to the Hajj event (Alsebaei 2014), MSWM services during the Arba’een event are delivered free of charge. The city’s MSWM institutions do not seem to mind spending large amounts of money on MSWM without any cost recovery.
Management framework and institutional coherence
The presence of updated MSWM legislation and regulations to accommodate any changes to the national situation plays a vital role in the success of MSWM system performance (Wilson et al. 2015). The Environmental Protection and Improvement Act number 27/2009 laid out principles for the protection of air, water and the environment in general. This act emphasises the importance of developing strategies for MSWM in an environmentally sound manner. However, the institutions were not able to formulate such a robust long-term strategy that adopts the hierarchy of MSWM. Seven participants thought that the current law was weak and outdated, focusing only on public cleaning and ignoring the development of the MSWM system. The law states that the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Public Municipalities is held responsible for the management of MSW at a national level while the Ministry of Environment is in charge of enforcing environmental legislations and monitoring the performance of MSWM systems. These ministries are also obliged to ensure that all activities operate without an adverse environmental footprint.
As a part of the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Public Municipalities, KM is responsible for the planning and delivery of MSWM services in the city including the collection, transportation and disposal of MSW. During events, since the organisational capacity of KM is not compatible with the amount of MSW produced, other institutions such as KMs, HAS and nearby city municipalities provide support in the form of MSW collection vehicles which collect and transport the MSW generated in the areas assigned to them by KM. Despite a well-organised and structured career progression, these bodies have a low percentage of suitably qualified and skilled key staff, poor staff training and limited development programmes. In parallel with national strategy, the city-wide MSWM plan is poor as it lacks an adequate strategy/plan; management institutions deliver MSWM services according to day-to-day operational planning. MSW data is not systematically collected/recorded, because of the absence of a weighbridge at the landfill site and limited available finance. The absence of reliable data on MSW generation rates has led to open dumping and inadequate service delivery.
In common with other cities such as Mina (Alsebaei 2014), Qena (Wilson et al. 2013a), Managua and Nicaragua (Wilson et al. 2012), the national MSWM framework has not successfully introduced updated legislation to address current MSWM needs. This includes provision of an adequate MSWM strategy and effective implementation of the regulations and strategies necessary to improve the situation. There are several cities with comparable income levels that have achieved better performance, for example, Castries (Wilson et al. 2013b) and Guadalajara (Wilson et al. 2015). This implies that the MSWM institutions in Iraq can develop a more efficient MSWM framework to address identified challenges and improve current performance.
Application of Wasteaware benchmark indicators on the Arba’een event MSWM system
The Wasteaware benchmark indicators framework was developed by Wilson et al. (2015) to comprehensively evaluate MSWM systems in cities. This framework was applied to the city of Kerbala during large events to identify its strengths and the weaknesses and prioritise action for development. The framework evaluates the management system based on 8 composite qualitative indicators and 4 quantitative indicators. For each of the qualitative indicators, an assessment is made based on the collected data and authors’ professional judgment, assigning a score (0, 5, 10, 15 or 20) against each criterion. For each indicator, the scores of the criteria are then summed and normalised to provide a percentage normalised score. For instance, the normalised score for an indicator that encompasses 6 criteria is the summation of the criteria scores divided by 120. A summary of indicators calculated for the MSWM system implemented during the Arba’een event is presented in Table 3.
The results of the Wasteaware benchmark indicators on the Arba’een MSWM system confirm that this system is weak. Despite all the focus and attention of Kerbala’s MSWM institutions on MSW collection and transportation, 100% collection rates have yet not been achieved. A medium rating (41.6%) was achieved for the quality of the collection service; this is almost identical to the quality of the collection service during Hajj in Mina (Alsebaei 2014). The existing landfill site in Kerbala is no more than a dumpsite, lacking for a weighbridge and appropriate general site management. Similar to Lahore (Masood et al. 2014), Qena (Wilson et al. 2013a) and Mina (Alsebaei 2014), methods of disposal are far from the requirements of a controlled landfill. Although a high fraction of the MSW produced during the Arba’een is recyclable, resource recovery still does not appear to be a major focus for the city authorities. Kerbala, like many middle-income cities (Wilson et al. 2013b), still relies on informal recycling. A recycling rate of ~ 5% was estimated by the management authorities; this is the same as Qena (Wilson et al. 2013b), a city with slightly better quality and environmental conditions (Wilson et al. 2013a).
Regarding governance aspects, MSWM system used during the Arba’een did not achieve good performance. To develop a sustainable MSWM system, inclusion of system users as well as all providers (private and informal) in planning and decision-making is essential (Wilson et al. 2015). The provider inclusivity indicators acquired a low to medium score because of the weak involvement of both private-sector companies and the informal sector. Public engagement is also limited due to the absence of a well-developed consultant mechanism. There is no permanent scheme of public education available through schools or colleges. The financial sustainability indicator also achieves a low to medium score of 30%, as all the management costs are provided by the Iraqi government there being no cost recovery in the form of user fees. This is comparable to the financial suitability situation in Mina during the Hajj event, as Mina authorities also deliver an MSWM service free of charge. The overall assessment of the management framework and institutional coherence was similar to other developing cities such as Mina (Alsebaei 2014), Qena (Wilson et al. 2013a), Managua and Nicaragua (Wilson et al. 2012). The national MSWM framework has not successfully introduced updated legislation to address current and future MSWM needs, particularly during events.
Recommendation for future priorities
Waste management authorities (KM, KMs and HSA)
Several recommendations are made, aimed at the improvement of the current MSWM system in Kerbala, particularly during large events. It has been observed that most MSWM services are delivered by the public sector, with a negligible contribution by private and informal sectors. As most of the budget is focused on MSW collection and transportation, the inclusion of these sectors in MSW collection and transportation is expected to improve the collection service while minimising the collection cost. A similar system has already been active during the Hajj event in Mina (Alsebaei 2014). This would reduce the burden on the system and make it financially firm.
Kerbala’s poor performance on MSW treatment and disposal indicators (indicators 2.1 and 2.2 in Table 3) calls for action towards improvement of its landfill site. In the short term, the current disposal site should be properly managed to comply with environmental regulations in Iraq. Proper site management could significantly reduce negative environmental impacts of the current site. In the long term, a new landfill site should be planned, a state-of-the-art site, with proper facilities for gas control and leachate management (Wilson et al. 2012). Several cities around the world have started attracting international investment to assist the development of such facilities including Kunming in China and Sousse in Tunisia (Wilson et al. 2012).
Formal recycling in Kerbala is absent, but noting the recycling rates by the informal sector has highlighted the contribution of the informal sector to MSWM in Kerbala. It was estimated by Kerbala’s MSWM institutions that the current recycling rate is ~ 5% of the MSW produced during the event; in the absence of informal recycling, the collected and disposed MSW would increase. Thus, proactive engagement with the informal sector is recommended, with the goal of developing a win–win solution. This solution could further increase recycling rates and cost savings for Kerbala, while improving the poor working conditions of the informal recyclers. There is a high percentage of organic MSW (57.9%) in the MSW stream, and there is no composting facility in Kerbala. A new composting facility should be planned, as the city encompasses large agricultural lands (Khalaf and Hassan 2013), a strong market for the sale of compost. Utilising organic MSW as a compost could significantly minimise the amount of MSW disposed of in the landfill.
To engage the public as system users, enhancing their awareness regarding MSWM is crucial (Abdulredha et al. 2017a). The management institutions in Kerbala have not done enough to involve users in MSWM process. Involving the users in the design of MSWM services and providing information on the working of the system and the role of users are essential in the success of the proposed system. Utilising schools and educational institutions is a very effective method of disseminating this information.
In addition, the city is lacking target-based policies and proper planning. The current focus of MSWM institutions is on the improvement of collection and transportation services. Thus, this system will face serious problems if there is a reduction in the budget allocated for MSWM in the city, particularly during events. The system needs to be more reliant on its capacities. Applying affordable collection fees will have a positive impact on the financial sustainability of the MSWM system, while will, in turn, focus users’ attention on the fact that they need to be responsible in terms of managing their MSW. The outdated and poor enforcement of existing laws and regulations are also reasons for the weak MSWM system in the city. Current policies and legislation need to be properly examined, updated and applied. The unavailability of reliable data regarding MSW generation rate and composition impacts on illegal dumping and the amount of MSW that could potentially be recovered. The development of an information system which can accurately capture such data could significantly enhance the planning and delivery of MSWM services.
Religious events attract millions of pilgrims from different countries. Therefore, these events could be efficiently used to increase the public environmental awareness by using short, informative, and attractive teaching tools, such as posters and short movies. The religious authority responsible for managing the Arba’een event (HSA) could use events as a platform to raise the environmental awareness among pilgrims and even wider audience. The educational programme could be started by using some religious sermons during large events to disseminate this knowledge and educate pilgrims about the importance of their active participation in MSWM services. Additionally, religious events usually attract a big deal of media attention, where the bigger the event, the better the media coverage. Accordingly, efforts towards raising public environmental awareness could reach people who are interested but cannot attend such events.