I've been writing a work plan for my next six months at the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO). It includes the following primary projects:
1. Implement a solid waste management system in two of the city's barangays (neighbourhoods of approx. 10,000). We'll need to take this project all the way from the formation of a council, to the passing of an ordinance, to the implementation of the plan.
2. Sewerage and Sanitation (oh yes). The city recently mandated that every septic tank in San Fernando needs to be desludged every 5 years – I need to figure out how to make that happen, and how much money needs to be collected.
Additional side projects (as if one could ever tire of septage) include a study of residual and hazardous waste in junk shops, a recycling project in schools and a composting initiative.
Here's what I've accomplished so far:
1. Learned the names of more than half my co-workers.
2. Figured out how to express, in Ilocano, the basic concern that my hovercraft is full of eels (Napno iti igat ti hovercraftko).
So it's been a productive first couple weeks.
One emerging theme is that of money. There are some rich individuals in San Fernando, but the city itself is not exactly rolling in cash.
We spent a good deal of last week trying to figure out what kind of septic tank desludging fee we needed to level against the city's 25,000 households in order to raise the 3 million pesos required to build a new septage treatment facility. Water quality problems led to the city's recent pronouncement that every septic tank in the city needs to be desludged every 5 years. Without the infrastructure to treat so much waste, the money will need to be raised quickly in order to begin construction of a new facility.
To contextualize the 3 million peso figure a little bit: the average city worker makes roughly 10,000 pesos per month. Three million might not break the bank, but it's nothing for the city to scoff at.
On the weekend, a friend and I were out with San Fernando's richest Bucla (the Tagalog term for a particular type of feminine gay man). We were inspecting her1 doll collection, when there came an enormous WHUMP!
I spun around to find that she had slammed 1 million pesos down on the coffee table.
I said something incredulous to the effect of “what are you doing with so much money”?
“Spending money, sweetie. You're coming for dinner, aren't you?”
Given that the most expensive dinner in the city costs less than 400 pesos, the stack of 1 million seemed moderately excessive, but the point of this anecdote is to illustrate the divide between rich and poor within San Fernando.
The city's relative poverty is going to inform how we approach all of our environmental projects. Whereas moral and ethical factors drive environmental sustainability within Canada, economic concerns are paramount here. Nobody takes a lot of convincing to recycle cans and bottles for which they receive money, but something like composting, with no immediate financial benefit, is a tougher sell. The most common means of disposing of waste – though illegal – is burning. Providing a financial incentive to instead segregate and recycle waste is going to be a big challenge.
But not as big as cleaning these stupid eels out of my hovercraft.
1Ilocano does not differentiate between male and female pronouns. As a result, the Bucla use them interchangeably.