NO one would argue that Karachi doesn’t have a serious garbage crisis. The sticking point, however, is how to solve the megacity’s solid waste management problem. Sindh’s political class has so far responded to the issue in two ways: implement large internationally funded projects spearheaded by foreign and local consultants, or outsource this essential public service to private foreign and local firms. Both methods have proved disappointing, costly and unsustainable, as they neglect meaningful engagement with civil society, academia and impacted communities, and fail to account for the existing undocumented infrastructure of garbage collection. But another solution, one that acknowledges ground realities as opposed to taking a top-down approach, was recently proposed by the local chapter of an equine welfare charity. Highlighting the vital role Karachi’s donkeys play in moving the city’s refuse, particularly in underserviced areas, as well as the risks to donkeys and their owners, it proposed not only providing adequate support and services to these informal workers, but also integrating them with Karachi’s municipal and solid waste management authorities.
The suggestion is sound, as it manages to address several overlapping issues at once: providing public services to vulnerable communities; regularising informal livelihoods; and building a culture for animal welfare. Tens of thousands of Karachi’s households rely on the operations of donkey carts. Relatively small-scale interventions such as veterinary care for working donkeys, social safety nets for their owners, and training and resources to limit exposure to health risks, can mean the difference between sustainable livelihoods and deeper poverty. This, of course, is only one part of the equation to resolving Karachi’s garbage crisis. But, given the pollution-linked and vector-borne diseases associated with it, policymakers must acknowledge that accountable, responsive governance is not brought about through flashy infrastructure projects alone. A pro-poor strategy that recognises the needs of marginalised communities can be both efficient and humane.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2019