Here we go again. Another group of Okharpauwa Village Development Committee (VDC) locals obstruct the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s (KMC) garbage trucks to enter and unload the municipal waste at the landfill site. After over a week of disruption by one group of locals, the Ministry of Local Development (MLD) had reached a deal with them just a day ago. It had also threatened to use “force” if the locals continued to obstruct the trucks. Now, with this new group’s obstruction, I am imagining the front page pictures and cartoons in major newspapers with KMC trucks escorted by our police force as if they were escorting something really valuable. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that waste has a value but not that it needs police escort.
Jest aside, the government has made umpteenth negotiations (or rather bowed down) with the locals in the past. And every time another group pops up with its own demand. This time too, the new group has not allowed the trucks to enter the area questioning the legitimacy of the deal reached by the government with the previous group. The popping up of new groups, every now and then, with their own demand says at least one thing: The locals of Okharpauwa VDC are exhibiting a syndrome that locals in any other place in Nepal or anywhere else in the world would exhibit and that is: NIMBY – Not In My Backyard syndrome.
But our case is little different. In other places, especially in the developed countries, this syndrome is usually eliminated or minimized by adequate prior homework by the concerned authorities and various rounds of consultations with all the stakeholders until all of them negotiate to come to a common point. The project never gets a green signal until all the stakeholders agree on the objectives, outcomes and terms and conditions of the project. We lacked this essential consultation among “all the stakeholders” mainly because we have a trend that few “Mr Know Alls” of the village usually make the decision on behalf of all the locals and also because our government (or the concerned authority) seldom listens to the suggestions of independent experts.
UNSUITABLE LANDFILL SITE
Ever since the Okharpauwa landfill site plan was in the offing, experts and concerned individuals had suggested that Okharpauwa was not the best option to dispose of Kathmandu’s waste. They, among others, had suggested that Chovar (previous Himal Cement Factory) could be the ideal landfill site for Kathmandu’s waste as it is only about seven kilometers from the city and there is already an up-and-running road to Chovar – which would save the time and money spent on building a road.
Over 70 percent of about 400 tons of waste that is generated in Kathmandu daily is organic, which can be converted to compost and over 10 percent is recyclable.
But the government, because of our myopic planners and policy makers, and the vested interest of few in the power, went ahead with its plan, as a result of which, the otherwise manageable problem of waste management, has now exacerbated into a perennial one.
Okharpauwa was not suitable on various grounds – economical, environmental and social, among others. First: It is 28 kilometers far from the Teku Transfer Station – a place where all the wastes from Kathmandu is brought for segregation and recycling. The cost of hauling the wastes to Okharpauwa versus Chovar, even with the conservative estimates, is at least four times high. The wear and tear of the vehicles and the travel time that is four times higher than hauling the waste to Chovar means that either the cash-strapped KMC would have to hire more drivers or “request” the drivers to make multiple trips. Everyone knows the work ethics of most of our government employees. One of the KMC employees, few years ago, expressing his dissatisfaction over the government’s decision to make Okharpauwa as the landfill site had said that it meant more problems. One of the problems was that the drivers would just make one trip and would often come back with excuses that they had a flat tire or there was some problem with the truck. Which, in other words, means, the job not being done on time and that KMC would have to reimburse the driver for the maintenance charges.
Second: Experts say that Okharpauwa landfill site is a river-bed, what this means is most of the leachate – after decomposition and in the absence of proper lining – will seep down the soil ultimately contaminating the water table below and downstream threatening the environmental and public health.
Lastly: Dumping the wastes from Kathmandu to Okharpauwa is social injustice to the local people. However, it is also to be understood that any project, besides its positive impacts, is likely to cause some kind of inconvenience to the local people. These inconveniences should be identified in the pre-phase of the project and adequate compensation mechanisms – be that in terms of cash, employment opportunities or infrastructure development – for all the affected parties and should be spelt out prior to the implementation of the project. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report must have spelled out all the direct and indirect, negative and positive impacts of this project on the environment and on the livelihood of the local people. If it doesn’t, then somebody is not doing his job right.
The problem with us is that the concerned authorities do not share the public information publicly and are very quick at granting the green signal to the project provided it has some immediate benefits to them. And this is not just the case of Okharpauwa landfill site. In many similar projects, decision makers make decisions in haste, repent at leisure and public pays the price.
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
Most of the Kathmanduites, including the concerned authorities, seem to believe that out of sight is out of mind. This is one of the reasons most of the Kathmanduites pack their household wastes in plastic bags and throw them out during the night. As long as the waste is out of the house people are okay. KMC kept dumping the wastes on the sides of Bagmati River as “crisis management” for few years after the locals didn’t allow dumping in Gokarna landfill site. As long as the wastes were out of the streets and out of the Teku transfer station KMC employees thought they did their job well.
But the people who paid to get their wastes out of their houses also had to pay the price. The reality is the population of Kathmandu is rising and increasing population results in increasing amount of wastes. A significant percentage of Kathmandu’s population – especially after the insurgency – is of middle or lower middle class, who live in small space and who do not have enough room, money, time and incentives to segregate their wastes into recyclables, non-recyclables and organic.
The concerned authorities should understand that it is not possible to please all the people all the time. There will always be some unsatisfied groups of locals in Okharpauwa who will obstruct the dump trucks in the future. The best bet in the current scenario is to look into the scientific studies and suggestions from the technical experts.
Studies show that over 70 percent of about 400 tons of waste that is generated in Kathmandu daily is organic, which can be converted to compost and over 10 percent is recyclable. What this means is: If we follow the experts’ suggestions and focus on this 80 percent of trash that can be converted to cash, we are remained with only about 80 tons of wastes to deal with. The government should encourage investors – by offering some kind of incentives and also by making the application and approval process easier or even with tax rebates – to establish a large scale compost plant. This will not only generate employment opportunities, it will reduce the volume of wastes going to the landfill and not to mention generate cash from what would otherwise go to landfill. If the news reports are accurate, the government has already spent more than 24 million rupees on Sisdole and Aletar landfill sites. If this sum of money were spent on public-private partnership to establish a compost plant, it would have generated few dozen jobs and the government wouldn’t have to deploy police force to dump garbage.
It is also necessary to eliminate the lack of coordination among KMC and Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilization Center (SWMRMC). The SWMRMC under the Ministry of Local Development, makes plans and policies related to solid waste management and the municipalities execute those plans. Some of the KMC officials admit in private that they are not “happy” with the plans of SWMRMC and that it doesn’t listen to their “suggestions”. The KMC, which has recently received 108 vehicles from the Chinese government, should efficiently use its fleet to collect all the wastes from Kathmandu. Hope that the Chinese government has provided KMC with mini/medium-size dump truck that can easily maneuver in the streets of Kathmandu and not the SUVs for the KMC/SWMRMC employees who would clog the already congested roads of Kathmandu.
it´s been years that the authorities are continuously purporting about the establishment of compost plant and recycling center. only focusing on ephemeral solution, KMC always dumped the long term plan for waste management. not only does KMC lack the visionaries, even the whole nation, ironically, is in dire need of a clairvoyant. on the other hand , Leader ignited the people to put their demand, but forgot to teach the lesson of responsibility.
Better yet, why don´t the citizens of Kathmandu compost their own organic waste and use it in their gardens. Then separate out their recyclables, paper, plastic, glass, metal.
If denizens of the cities don´t want to wade through and smell their own rotting filth they should figure out a way to deal with it themselves instead of pushing the responsibility onto someone else.
I have seen dead dogs laying in trash heaps for days in fr