Condemned by poverty to live in filth

Published Jan 14, 2013 02:11am

KARACHI, Jan 13: “This animal dung has ruined our life. There is nothing but disease here now. Fish stocks, which used to be in abundance in the creek, have depleted and consequently our children are forced to travel long distances, at times even close to the Indian territory, to fish,” said Ibrahim Jut Baloch, an old fisherman.

In his late 70s, Ibrahim lives in Haji Ali Mohammad Goth in Lat Basti, a town comprising three villages and part of Rehri union council of Bin Qasim Town.

The village facing the Korangi Creek with mangroves in the background could have been an ideal place to live in, but its beauty has been marred by the continuous disposal of untreated waste of about 400,000 animals into the creek from the adjoining Cattle Colony.

This has been happening for decades.

Worsening living conditions, according to Ibrahim, have forced many people to resettle either in the interior of Sindh or the city. However, this has not happened in his case.

“Who would like to live amid filth? It’s poverty which is holding us back,” he said when asked that why he was still living in the area plagued with so many problems.

A visit to the village showed that a large storm drain carrying water-mixed animal waste flowed through the village which keeps it enveloped in a pungent smell. Since the drain is open and the village sits at an elevated ground, it poses a risk to the inhabitants. The continued disposal of dung has created a hardening crust on the liquid waste.

“I remember catching fish and shrimps here as a child. Today it seems like a dream,” said Sikandar Jut, a resident and local social worker, adding that waste disposal had reduced the mangrove cover and there had been incidents of children falling into the open drain.

Most villagers, including women and children, suffered from skin infections and were also found to be hooked to ‘gutka’, a concoction of tobacco, betel nuts and other ingredients including intoxicating substances.

The absence of hygiene and prevalence of addiction seemed to have made them indifferent to the filth they lived in as none of them showed the desire to get their children educated for a better future though a school exists in the area.

Speaking on how animal waste had impacted marine biodiversity in the particular area, Dr Iqbal Saeed, former director-general of the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), said that a high level of biological oxygen demand, nitrogen and hormonal disruptors were three key factors that had ruined marine life.

“It is not just the animal dung. There is liquid waste including animal blood and urine among other things. Since animals are administered hormonal injections, hormonal disruptors are released through urine and also adversely impact marine life,” he said.

“Over 10 to 12 kilometres of the creek water in that particular area is discoloured but its impact would be in a much greater area as you can’t take out the dead marine animals rotting in the sea’s bottom.”

Dr Saeed said he had visited the area as the Sepa head and tried to persuade people not to drain their waste into the sea. “Efforts were also made to set up biogas plants in Cattle Colony but somehow they failed to take off.”

A ray of hope

A project that could change the face of the village and the adjoining areas and, perhaps, even the city, is a biogas-to-energy project planned to be launched this year by the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) and the Amn Foundation, which have jointly set up the Karachi Organic Energy, a renewable energy venture.

The International Finance Corporation has agreed to provide project management support under an agreement.

Under the Landhi biogas project, 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste will be collected on a daily basis largely from cattle farms in Landhi and organic waste from industries, food outlets and wholesale markets. The target is to generate up to 22 megawatts of green power and 300 tonnes per day of organic. It is said to be the largest biogas plant in the country.

“The project is at an advanced stage and the plant’s construction would start in three to four months and it would take at least 15 months to complete. In the first phase 11MW of electricity would be produced,” said Mohammed Omer Ghaznavi representing the Highmark Renewables, a Canadian firm which would provide technical support for the project.

Mr Ghaznavi had earlier worked with the KESC and looked after the project in its initial stages.

“We are technology providers and have set up biogas-to-energy plants in other countries as well. Improper disposal of waste is a major problem in Karachi and other cities in Pakistan and we hope that the project’s success would help start similar projects in the country,” he said.

Shaukat Mukhtar, representing the Karachi Dairy Farmers Association which had signed an agreement with the KESC for the provision of cattle waste, said: “If the project proved successful, our long-standing problem will be solved. Besides, it will create a lot of jobs in our locality.”

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