A message of solidarity for our GAIA members in Asia Pacific

Dear GAIA AP Members,

We hope that the message of solidarity from the GAIA Coordination Team gave you a sense of comfort and community amid this growing COVID-19 pandemic. We take this opportunity to highlight a few reminders stated in the initial message:

We hope you and your loved ones are safe. We trust that you have already been monitoring the situation in your respective areas, but in case you need it, here are some helpful resources from US CDC and WHO on tips to prevent COVID-19 in communities and on mental health considerations, respectively. If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19, please remain calm, stay at home (as much as possible), and follow the advice issued by your national and local health authorities.

While we try to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy, let us not forget the very front liners of our cause: our waste workers and waste pickers. Their roles become especially important in times of disaster such as these. Yet unlike some of us, they do not have the privilege of working from home. Physical distancing is especially difficult to adopt due to the nature of their line of work, and sources of sanitation (soap and clean water) are not always readily available or easily accessible. Examples from China and India show that civil society groups already acknowledge the importance of waste workers in lowering the risk of infections within our communities.

In reality, our unsung everyday heroes are not well equipped, protected, and perhaps are not well-paid nor well trained. Those might not fit our ideals, but we can see this as an opportunity to better support them.

As partners in realizing a Zero Waste world, it is essential for us to take action, ensuring their protection and livelihood. Here are some ideas:

  1. Urge regional or local governments to:
    • provide waste workers and their families with PPEs, sanitation kits, and food rations
    • give access to soap and water for washing, interest-free loans, compensation for lost working days, higher pay or additional hazard pay
    • include waste management in essential services list
  2. Remind communities (particularly households) to:
    • minimize waste as it is a critical situation
    • separate disposable PPEs from residuals and put distinctive labels
    • start managing at least a part of your organic waste at home, since transportation is limited
    • not to burn waste, as it only makes a new problem (transform infectious waste into toxic waste)
    • be kind and inclusive to waste workers and respect their livelihood (e.g.sharing food)
    • extend your emotional support and talk to them to build confidence
  3. Organize or support existing relief drives for distributing PPEs, sanitation kits, and food rations to waste workers and their families
  4. Share information about COVID-19, particularly on how waste workers and their families can protect themselves from possible infection
  5. Mount text/SMS/social media campaigns to spread information about COVID-19 prevention and how to handle our waste safely. You might find this article helpful.

Alternatively, we also acknowledge that some Zero Waste collaborators and partners have already taken initiatives on their own relief drive of purchasing PPEs and sanitation kits to be distributed to their partner waste workers (e.g. the local government of San Fernando, SWaCH Coop, YPBB Bandung, to name a few).

Our leaders have to make tough decisions, and communities need to adapt fast. This might give a sense of disruption over our work. We are committed to thinking long-term about our mission—to catalyze a global shift towards Zero Waste—despite the short-term insecurity. If you have the privilege of working from home, we invite you to spend some time and energy towards thinking of creative ways to forward our campaign during and after lockdowns. There are different ways and perspectives we can explore during this time, one of those is enhancing the connection between waste and health in times of crisis.

Right now, our priority should be protecting our communities and loved ones (including their mental health). Please don’t get too bogged down by deadlines, and try to limit exposure to news if it gives you too much anxiety. Remember that our positive mindset, energy and leadership is much needed by those around us during this time. As advised by authorities, we will need to postpone large public gatherings and hold meetings online where possible.  You might find this advice from Graham Medley, a professor of Infectious Disease Modeling from the UK, helpful: “Act as if you’re infected and don’t want to pass it on, not as if you’re trying to avoid being infected.” Only by protecting ourselves and our communities can we ensure that our movement will grow stronger in the future.

We would also like to take this opportunity to share with you this invitation to sign-on to this global statement shared by our friends from 350.org. Please click on the link to read and sign-on: Principles for a Just Response to COVID-19.

Lastly, in case you need any help, the GAIA AP secretariat would love to help and support you in any way we can. We are in this together. Don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss possibilities through patricia@no-burn.org, our Network Support Associate.

Rest assured, we will continue to keep you informed on how GAIA AP is moving forward and the ways you can be involved.

We wish you, your family, and your communities to stay healthy and well, so we can continue to work together towards a healthier and safer future for all!

In solidarity,

The GAIA AP team

(Beau, Edel, Felicia, Froi, Jed, Miko, Rhoda, Sonia, Sherma, Shibu, Trish, Yehlen, and Yobel)