Waste management has become a headache for everyone. A permanent solution is needed to address this perennial issue.
--BY DAIZY DHAREWAL
For the past months, the streets of Kathmandu have had an awful odour, and it has become an everyday routine for the locals to pass past heaps of waste lying unattended for weeks. And to top it all off, the city has been experiencing severe rains and clogged roads due to the inadequate drainage system, which causes no roads to remain clear of scattered garbage. Waste management is a perennial issue in Kathmandu, which not only has its environmental concerns but also concerns the health, tourism, and economic sector simultaneously.
Locals exposed to mounds of contaminated solid waste are at a severe health risk, and the streets provide a breeding ground for contagious diseases. Waste disposal workers and residents near landfill sites are at a greater risk. Sisdol landfill is the biggest dumping site in Nepal, comprising solid waste from Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kakani, and Banepa. The locals there have been protesting for months, demanding that if the government wants to dump waste in the area, it compensates them and creates infrastructure there. The officials have been concerned about the locals politicizing waste and creating unnecessary problems, but maybe it is time people politicize waste if that is what gets the attention of the government.
Tourism is one of the mainstays of the Nepali economy and a major source of foreign exchange and revenue. Unfortunately, due to inadequate waste management, the smell of waste will not be a pleasing welcome note for visitors to Nepal and may discourage them from traveling here. In 1996, Newsweek made a story titled ‘Goodbye Shangrila’ pointing out the littering garbage around Kathmandu city. It made a hue and cry among tourism entrepreneurs. With losses to the GDP and businesses reliant on tourism, this will cost the nation dearly. Waste is a part of the economy – corporations, the government, and households all produce waste as a result of economic activity. It is a source of input for economic activity, whether through material or energy recovery. The managing of waste has financial effects on government spending and output.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has long developed several waste management plans, but it lags in putting them into action and maintaining them, which keeps Kathmandu from being a clean city. The Teku waste-to-energy plant was established years ago when KMC struggled to manage household garbage due to a lack of resources and technology, and it still struggles to do so. However, even that plant has been unable to keep up with the demand, making the lives of the locals in Teku equivalent to heaps of garbage. Like garbage, even the dust has become synonymous with Kathmandu, and to overcome this issue, the government had bought brooming vehicles to aid helping hand to labourers, but even this seemed to decrease its presence gradually, and the vehicles remained locked up in garages. A solid and functioning waste management system is the need of the hour.
The locals of Kathmandu are all looking for answers and solutions for all the dumped garbage around them, but they also need to learn that it all starts at home and that it is the union of the citizens and the government which will help Kathmandu reach its desired goal. Waste segregation from waste-producing locations such as homes, industries, and corporations will result in a significant change in waste management. Even today, before garbage gets deposited at landfill sites, waste is segregated to a certain extent, however, to fully implement segregation, the people involved in the initial step are the ones who may bring in a large helping hand. Composting is a very beneficial option that is often overlooked by people; organic waste can be composted and used as fertilizer on a small scale by locals. A campaign to raise awareness is required. As cliche as it may sound, change does begin at home, and if people don't understand the necessity of trash management, then nothing the government does will ever matter.
The government must abandon its "throw and forget" attitude and not ignore the possibility of beneficial trash. The numerous guidelines and precautions created for waste management must be appropriately implemented and handled. The government should impose stricter regulations and perhaps even start rewarding those who recycle their waste to promote this habit. Recycling waste has always been a viable alternative. There are innovative digital platforms and enterprises in Nepal, which are trying their best to segregate, recycle and create awareness about waste, and all they require is support and recognition. The city needs proper infrastructure at landfill sites, peace and agreement with locals, enhanced transportation, and manpower facilities. Although Nepal is behind other countries in resources and technology, using this as an excuse for everything is detrimental to the people. There may be a reason for optimism given the freshly elected mayor's leadership.
Following his victory in the mayoral election, Balendra Shah hurried to the landfills in Sisdole and Banchare Danda and declared that he would not take any felicitation tokens from anyone until the problems of the locals were resolved. During monsoons, the roads up to the landfill sites get damaged, adding another reason for the delay in garbage pickup. In his first municipal executive meeting, Mayor Shah announced the establishment of a "call center" within a week to hear Kathmandu residents' complaints, as well as the operation of an "infrastructure ambulance service" to repair problems such as potholes on the road and leaking water pipes and sewers. He has also stated that he will attempt to eliminate the odour and adopt trash segregation.
The only thing Kathmandu wants right now is a clean and green city, so let's work toward a better future with the help of the newly elected representatives and their active involvement. It's time to see changes in Kathmandu's 15 lakh people. If other major cities with populations three times that of Kathmandu are managing their garbage well, why not Kathmandu.
Ms. Daizy Dharewal can be reached at [email protected]