KARACHI, Jan 6: In the absence of any integrated solid waste management system for Karachi, air pollution in the city continues to grow and affect public health as a considerable part of the waste is still burnt in the open in almost all towns and cantonment areas.
The environmental watchdogs, which are often criticised for poor implementation of the country’s environmental laws, are found helpless in this regard, while the city district government despite claims has not been able to come up with suitable techniques and a management programme to ensure safe disposal of waste in accordance with the national environment guidelines.
An agreement was signed by the city government and a foreign company about two years back for the development and operation of the infrastructure for collection, transfer and final disposal and treatment of municipal solid waste, hazardous medical waste, industrial solid waste and other poisonous and harmful waste generated in the city.
The municipal services group, according to a source in the city government, is of the view that the firm does not seem to have the willingness and capacity to start the job. The source said that the city nazim recently agreed to a proposal of the municipal services group that the agreement be cancelled, as two years had passed without any progress.
Karachi with a population of 18 million generates about 8,700 tonnes of municipal waste, besides about 2,000 tonnes of industrial waste, construction waste and hospital waste everyday. About eighty per cent of the waste is generated in the areas governed by the city government.
It is a general practice that people through their hired sweepers get garbage dumped at roadside collection points. Garbage trucks of the city government, towns and cantonment boards are driven on defined routes, largely main roads, to collect waste from these dumps and transport it to designated landfill sites. However, garbage bins are inadequate in many areas where rubbish is dumped in the open and in the shanty towns where garbage is not collected at all people throw rubbish into open drains and any vacant piece of land.
Hundred per cent collec tion of waste for the designated landfill sites or unregulated areas has never been possible for any civic agency because of the capacity of available vehicles and limited number of trips, according to experts.
Less than half of the total waste generated in the city (i.e. about 4,000 tonnes) finally reaches the two regulated dumping sites. Half of the remaining garbage is scavenged through by those hired by privately run recycling units, and the other half is burnt in kutchra kundi by the sweepers of the municipality and other scavengers to pick metal objects from the ashes.
A veteran scientist-turnedecologist, Mirza Arshad Ali Baig, says that burning of municipal and industrial waste is not only a clear violation of the country’s environment laws, but also a constant source of massive air pollution in the city in general and in residential areas in particular.
“In a city like ours where vehicular emissions are already a source of grave concern, the failure of civic agencies, environmental protection agency and the environment department in reducing the uncontrolled burning of solid waste is surely contributing to the overall increase of highly toxic and persistent chemicals in the environment.” Dioxin emissions He observes that open burning of domestic waste is a source of dioxin emissions and other air pollutants. He says that under the geographic status and weather conditions of the city the concentration of carbon monoxide in its night-time air is bound to decline, but it is due to the burning of waste that in some places the concentration is found between 3.2ppm and 3.8ppm.
He says that scavengers and private contractors are at liberty to burn heaps of waste in different parts of the city.
According to Mr Baig, it is the unchecked burning of waste that smokescreens or haze/brown clouds are witnessed in the sky over the Gondal Pass, a 500-acre landfill site developed 45 to 50 years ago, behind Orangi hills.
A report prepared on the physical environment in various landfill sites and garbage collection and transportation points a couple of years ago, says that the smell of organic waste is spread in the area. Particularly carbon monoxide with a concentration between 2.5ppm and 7.8ppm and carbon dioxide (386ppm430ppm) is very high in the area of Gondal Pass, while particulate matter of 10 microns is suspended in the air at the rate of 309-329µ/m3.
A lack of proper segregation and extraction of recyclable material before disposal prompts scavengers and addicts to burn the waste for a monetary benefit. While the civic agencies are silent spectators due to their poor mobilization, infrastructural and other shortcomings, the illegal and dangerous practice of burning of solid waste continues to pose serious risks to public health.
A doctor says that dioxins are dangerous even at extremely low levels and have been linked to several health problems, including cancer and development and reproductive disorders. Waste smoke may contain hazardous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, lead, mercury and hexachlorobenzene, which have immediate and long-term effects on health like asthma, emphysema and other respiratory diseases, nervous system, kidney or liver damage, the doctor warns.
Taking notice of the gravity of the illegal practice, the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) in October 2009 wrote letters to the officers concerned in all the 18 towns of Karachi. Sepa told them that it had been observed that hazards were being created due to improper dumping of solid waste and its subsequent burning in their respective jurisdiction, which was a violation of the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997. On the basis of some evidence available with Sepa regarding disposal and subsequent burning of solid waste in ground depressions and on streets, town authorities were advised to take immediate measures for the collection and proper disposal of solid waste away from residential areas. The town administrations were further asked to ensure that no subsequent burning of waste took place, otherwise legal action would be taken by Sepa, said a source in the agency, regretting that the response to the communication was not very encouraging.
A government official, who frequently travels in Korangi area, said that one could experience almost no visibility while going from Korangi expressway to Manzoor Colony.
Muhammad Shahid Farhad, the official in charge of the waste management cell of Sepa, told Dawn that Sindh Environment Minister Shaikh Afzal taking notice of garbage burning had discussed the issue with town municipal officers about a month back. Garbage burning in the Malir river along the causeway and on the road joining Korangi Industrial Area with Baloch Colony were discussed and the minister had cleared told the local authorities that open burning of garbage would not be allowed anywhere in the city and that waste must be transported to designated landfill sites.
Mr Farhad said that things in this regard had started improving. But, he added, he had witnessed open burning of garbage in areas near Jam Sadiq Bridge and Qayyumabad roundabout, in addition to the information that he had about the practice of burning waste still going on in seven to eight towns.
Another environmentalist said that it was all problem of attitude and scarcity of resources.
A source in town administration said that the overall yearly spending of the city government and towns on solid waste management was not more than seven per cent of their total budgets.
Najeeb Ahmad, a district officer, said that unsafe disposal and burning of garbage across the city was indeed a health and environment issue and the municipal services group of offices of the city government was already working on plans to address it. “We have been pointing out the problem to towns from time to time and most of the times they respond well,” he said, claiming that Gulshan-iIqbal and Jamshed towns were ensuring a hundred per cent disposal of solid waste to designated landfill sites.
He linked the inadequate transportation of waste to landfill sites with the available small transportation capacity of towns and said that in order to overcome the issue the city government had planned to construct garbage transfer stations in different towns so that waste could further be transferred to the Jam Chakro landfill site near Surjani Town. “We have already invited tenders for expressions of interest regarding consultancy services for construction/installation of garbage transfer station at Mewashah, Site town."