Karachi’s garbage problems remain a victim of political will

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KARACHI: Over 8,000 tonnes of garbage has piled up on the footpaths of Karachi as a result of the power struggle between the rival parties ruling Sindh province.

The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PP) share power in Pakistan’s southern province, of which commercial hub Karachi is the capital.

The city council has designated a public garbage dump directly in front of the entrance to a gated community of 200 apartments that house 1,700 people, in the centre of the city.

“It is just an empty lot with no way of containing garbage, so the trash often overflows onto the street making it hard to drive, let alone walk on the street,” Sultan Khan, whose apartment faces the garbage dump directly, told Truth Tracker.

“Every day somebody sets the garbage on fire. We cannot open any of our windows. This is the only way to keep the stench and smoke from coming in.”

“We have lodged complaints with our local councillor. We have signed petitions and submitted written requests to different officials, but all to no avail,” Khan said.

“A nearby hospital dumps its waste here. Restaurants from a nearby food street dump their trash here too. The garbage from surrounding neighbourhoods also ends up here,” another resident, Akbar Khan told Truth Tracker.

“The stench and smoke have made this place unliveable. But this is all we have, so where to go? We have requested the government to relocate the dump, but they say they do not have an alternative site,” he says.

The garbage dump is adjacent to a government school for over 600 primary and secondary students.

Secondary maths teacher Samina says almost all staff are suffering chest or skin infections.

“The number of students used to be higher but because of the constantly burning trash, fumes and foul smell the numbers are decreasing,” Samina told Truth Tracker, coughing as she spoke.

“Parents have been taking their children out of our school because most children especially younger ones fall sick very often.”

“Opening the windows is out of the question, no matter how hot it gets.  Often there is so much smoke and stench [trapped inside?] that we are forced to take students outside,” she said.

She wants to transfer to another school because her own health has been deteriorating.

“Sometimes the trash is so much that its pile goes five or six feet high. If we were to open the windows of the classrooms the trash will spill into the classrooms,” another teacher, who asked not to be named, told Truth Tracker.

The head doctor at the local health clinic said the garbage dump was “extremely hazardous” for a densely populated area and was causing a high rate of chest, eye and skin infections as well as asthma in the neighbourhood.

“If the government could manage to remove the garbage every day, and stop it from being scattered and set on fire, it would save the residents a lot of pain and trouble,” the doctor said.

At Garbage Transfer Station (GTS) near Asghar Shah Stadium in North Nazimabad, District Central, where trucks bring trash to be later transferred to landfill, delays in transferring the garbage has left it flowing on to the road. It now covers around three quarters of the road’s surface, leaving little space for traffic.

The chairman of District Municipal Corporation East, Moeed Anwar, says finding designated space for garbage is a challenge because of the population density.

“There is a seven to eight years backlog in the system, which we are trying to clear,” Anwar told Truth Tracker.

North Nazimabad Rubina said after complaining to a local councillor, sweepers and trucks came and cleared the garbage at her apartment block. But they only came once.

“Look the streets are littered with garbage again,” she said, gesturing to her surroundings.

Zahid Farooq, program director at the Urban Resource Centre, said the stalemate over responsibility for garbage collection was an administrative problem, reflecting institutional crisis.

“The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board is not performing any functions. On paper KMC is not involved in garbage collection, so the burden of the entire task is left solely to the District Municipal Corporations (DMCs),” Farooq told Truth Tracker.

“Karachi is an unplanned city so it is very hard to measure the exact quantity of garbage generated every day. Our estimate is that 12,000-ton garbage is created daily. The government claims they pick up 60 per cent of Karachi’s trash but our estimate suggests 40 per cent,” he says.

Karachi has two landfill sites at its outskirts: Jam Chakro and Deh Gondal Pass near Northern Bypass. Both are roughly 20 kilometres from the city centre.

“Truck drivers make only two trips because of the distance from collection point to the dumpsites. It is impossible to make three rounds because of the distance and Karachi’s traffic,” Farooq said.

Anwar was unable to provide figures on the amount of garbage being generated and removed in his district. He said a Chinese company had been hired to create covered garbage disposal sites.

Farooq advocates establishing garbage disposal site for each of the four districts in Karachi.

“This will reduce the time between collection points and disposal sites, making it quicker for the garbage to be removed and disposed.”

All major civic bodies including Karachi Building Control Authority, Karachi Solid Waste Management Board and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board have been restructured and renamed as Sindh Building Control Authority, Sindh Solid Waste Management Board and Sindh Water and Sewerage Board.

“We support centralized local government in Karachi,” Anwar said.

“The office of the Mayor should have authority to decide the matters of the city and for this we are taking our battle to the Supreme Court.”

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