Easier access to health, education and employment for informal waste collectors in Serbia

WHO/Djordje Novakovic

SWIFT launch, with (from left) H.E. Ambassador Nils Ragnar Kamsvaag, Norwegian Ambassador to Serbia, and Mr Bozidar Djelic, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, surrounded by members of the cooperative

SWIFT (the Sustainable Waste management Initiative For a healthier Tomorrow) was launched last week. It aims to provide informal waste collectors in Serbia with a decent livelihood and increase their access to public services – such as health, education and social services – and civil documentation.

Informal waste collection is an important survival strategy for many vulnerable groups in Serbia, particularly poorer groups in the Roma population. Open to all informal waste collectors in Belgrade, SWIFT enables them to join a cooperative that has office and sanitary facilities, and equipment including refuse lorries, presses, sorting facilities and occupational health and safety equipment. This enables members of the cooperative to provide waste management services and cooperate with other organizations that collect and recycle waste. The cooperative will also be able to provide other work from cleaning, labour services and alternative uses of waste in the future.

The project provides key determinants of health, such as employment with dignity, safety, education and inclusion. Beyond the initial benefits of a regular wage for participants and better refuse collection services for the area, it is hoped that SWIFT will provide sustainable employment and ensure the consideration of issues such as occupational health.

Breaking the poverty trap and tackling the social exclusion of vulnerable populations is in line with the poverty reduction strategy adopted by the Government of Serbia and the commitment to the Decade of Roma Inclusion made by European governments.

SWIFT has been funded by the Norwegian Government, and implemented by the WHO Country Office, Serbia in partnership with the International Office for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), with the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, the ministries of Health and of Environment and Spatial Planning, the City of Belgrade and the Municipality of Zvezdara (in Belgrade).

Initially launched as a pilot project, SWIFT will be assessed after six months, and setting up similar initiatives in other parts of the country is already under discussion.