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KARACHI: Notwithstanding the judicial commission’s active interest in matters of pollution and contamination in drinking water, officials representing the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) and Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) at a meeting held on Thursday failed to share any concrete plan or make any commitment on behalf of their respective departments on how to ensure safe disposal of the city’s waste.

The meeting, attended by representatives of the public and private sector, was organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) at its offices to discuss the pollution affecting Karachi’s beaches.

While there was no input from the KWSB representative on the three non-functional treatment plants, Dr A.D. Sajnani heading the SSWMB said that the province faced an uphill task to “satisfy the (judicial) commission”.

“The waste issue has taken a serious form because it remained on the back burner for decades,” Dr Sajnani explained, describing the issue as “alarming”.

According to him, the “solution is very simple” if the 19 agencies transported the solid waste, around 15,000 tonnes daily, generated in their respective jurisdictions to the landfill sites.

“Except a few, most of them are not fulfilling their responsibility, which include the Civil Aviation Authority and the Pakistan Railways. Four out of six cantonment boards are throwing their garbage into water bodies,” he observed, adding that many agencies had not responded to the board’s multiple reminders.

A few participants, however, disagreed with this approach and said that solid waste should be collected and segregated at source instead of taking it to a landfill site that also involved wastage of time and money, besides being an exercise carrying risk for human health and environment.

“Dumping garbage at landfill sites is no solution to the problem. We should be talking of garbage segregation at source, its reuse and recycling, if we really want to address the problem,” said retired Lt Colonel Najm-us-Saeed representing the DHA.

The issue of improper medical waste was also raised but couldn’t receive any specific recommendations.

There was also a call for a major public awareness drive to encourage individual participation, create public ownership and improve civic conduct.

Speaking on the need for calling the meeting, Baqaullah Unar, the secretary environment, climate change and coastal development also having the additional charge of Sepa, said that improper disposal of waste posed serious risk to human life and every agency had to play its role in tackling the issue as environment was a shared responsibility.

“We have tolerated enough and now it’s time for action,” he said, adding that Karachi’s beaches had turned polluted mainly because relevant agencies were not fulfilling their responsibility.

“They include the KWSB, the SSWMB, the local government as well as the Karachi Port Trust, the DHA and the various cantonment boards,” he observed.

Sharing information about the actions Sepa has taken against polluters, he said the agency had fined government departments as well as more than 40 polluting factories and had sent their (factories’) cases to the environmental tribunal.

He also talked about the restaurants lining the beach in the Seaview area which were dumping their untreated waste into the sea and warned them of action.

The environmental watchdog, he said, had also set up, for the first time, a sustainable development fund and a sustainable development board.

“The department is opening its offices in 10 districts and we need government support.”

Responding to a question on banning plastic, Sepa deputy director Imran Sabir said that the department was making efforts to ensure implementation of environmental regulations pertaining to the use of Oxo biodegradable plastic since 2014.

“Though there is still a long way to go, we have been able to encourage local and international companies and departmental stores to make use of this plastic. Last year, seven million kilograms of this biodegradable plastic was manufactured here,” he noted.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2017