Waste conundrum

19 Sep 2019


The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.
The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.

THERE has been fierce criticism by the Sindh government of the prospect of the centre enforcing Article 149 of the Constitution to fix Karachi’s infrastructure — primarily solid waste management — and governance issues. While the federal government and the city’s mayor are convinced that an ‘emergency’ prevails, the Sindh government thinks otherwise.

A committee under the federal law minister is tasked with formulating options to fix Karachi’s problems. But it is clear that the provincial government is not interested in solutions that would question the existing institutional arrangements. However, a lot can be done by these institutions under existing arrangements provided they swing into action.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation is responsible for managing the existing natural drains (nullahs) and the two landfill (read: dumping) sites. The relevant KMC departments must prepare a public plan of desilting the nullahs and the two rivers of Lyari and Malir — the parts that fall under its jurisdiction. If done in contractually awarded project mode, it will be costly. A plan must be prepared to outline the machinery and manpower needed, estimates of the operation cost and the time required to desilt these water bodies and remove the solid waste.

A proper engineering design to convert the sites into sanitary landfills must be executed without delay. Karachi requires at least one landfill site in each of its six districts. The Sindh government should carry out studies to identify the sites. Once the process takes off, financial matters can be addressed by the centre. Surely, the prime minister’s Karachi package can make room for all this.

Karachi needs to tackle its mountain of garbage.

The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) is responsible for managing municipal waste in districts South, East and Malir. It can be tasked with posting a waste-lifting and disposal plan for each ward in the districts under its control. The shortage of staff must be remedied so that garbage can be lifted throughout the day. Environmental impact studies to limit public health hazards are also necessary as is night-time sweeping to transfer street waste to neighbourhood bins. Trucks can collect the garbage early morning and late evening.

An agreement between the SSWMB and the informal recycling industry for the latter’s support in separating recyclables from the waste stream and reducing the volume of waste can yield positive results. Significant investments are needed for waste management in districts Central, West and Korangi that possess fewer plants, machinery and vehicles.

Once plans and schedules are in the public eye, digital technology can ensure timely monitoring and flow of information. Meanwhile, both the SSWMB and the district municipal corporations require assistance, for instance, in enhancing the training and capacity of staff, and support in record keeping and digital technology. Effective surveillance can ensure the protection of water bodies, including the nullahs and rivers, and save them from illegal waste dumping. The elimination of this practice is essential to enhancing the quality of water bodies.

The task will only be completed when the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board fixes its trunk sewers, develops box culverts along rivers and nullahs and ensures total treatment of wastewater by improving the performance of treatment plants. The good news is that the Sindh government — under the technical advice of the World Bank — is already revamping the organisational structure of the KWSB.

Waste of all kinds — market, cattle shed, slaughter house, healthcare, electronic, industrial, etc — are some other aspects that require action. Each category needs a different system. For instance, fruit and vegetable markets generate organic waste that could be converted into compost after appropriate collection and sorting. Cattle shed waste has the potential to fuel biogas plants or generate electricity on a small to medium scale. The Sindh government, in collaboration with an international financial institution, is aiming to develop a 50-megawatt plant along the same lines. Its progress must be sped up.

There are informal enterprises that make organic fertiliser from slaughterhouse waste. These enterprises could be supported to scale up their production for better revenue. There was a system of healthcare waste management in place a decade ago. Refrigerated vans and other paraphernalia were deployed by a private contractor under the erstwhile city district government. The same system can be revived after suitable modifications.

Meanwhile, few public hospitals have functional incinerators. The KMC must revive the apparatus under its ownership and control. Strict monitoring is required at healthcare units that routinely inject patients with used syringes. As a starting point for hospital waste, proper disposal of syringes and other medical equipment should be prioritised.

The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019