How Kathmandu’s waste management emerged as a perennial problemSegregation of garbage at the source itself and recycling the useful materials could serve as a long-term solution, according to experts.
Last month household garbage piled up in the streets of Kathmandu for a week.
While pedestrians suffered the stink momentarily while they walked past heaps of garbage in the Valley, Kaji Man Maharjan, owner of a grocery store at Teku, had to live with it.
“Every time, when the City fails to remove garbage it gets piled up just 50 metres from my shop and the stink comes directly to my shop,” said Maharjan. “Other people can close their windows to stop the odour, but shop owners waiting for customers can’t do that. Besides, business suffers.”
This time the garbage was finally cleared after the Kathmandu Metropolitan City reached an agreement with local residents at Sisdole, Nuwakot to let the garbage from the Capital be dumped there.
But 50-year-old Maharjan knows that the relief he has felt is a temporary one. Soon garbage will be piled nearby, he said, as he has faced this problem recurring every year.
Maharjan has always wondered why Kathmandu’s garbage problem has not been resolved for years.
He and others who run businesses are well aware that the situation gets worse during the monsoon.
“When it rains, the situation becomes more severe. Garbage is not collected,” said Bikesh Joshi, owner of Bhok Lago, an eatery at Pradarsani Marg. “It will be difficult to manage the organic waste from our restaurant.”
During the monsoon the transportation of garbage to Okharpauwa in Nuwakot gets disrupted because of the muddy road as lorries carrying garbage sink into the slushy ground.
A 300 meters road stretch between Kalfu Khola to Valley 1 of Sisdole landfill site is in dire need of repairs.
At Sisdole there are three landfill sites called Valley 1, Valley 2 and Valley 3.
“Because the road has been constructed on a pile of garbage, and when it rains the road gets swept away,” said Chandra Bahadur Balami, chair of ward 1 of Kakani Rural Municipality.
Every day the Kathmandu Valley generates around 1200 metric tonnes of solid waste, of which 50 percent comes from the Kathmandu Metropolitan City alone. The landfill site at Sisdole, around 27km southwest of Kathmandu is spread over 740 ropanis (37.65 hectares), formerly a gorge, is being used although it has already reached its capacity.
In 2005, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City started dumping garbage collected from the Valley at the Sisdole site with an agreement that the site would be used for three years, but 15 years later garbage continues to be dumped here. The site has become a stinking hill and the nearby settlements have complained of the hazards other than to human health: drop in quality of their agriculture produce and diseases in their livestock due to the leachate from the landfills.
Over 200 families with 1,200 family members who reside near the Sisdole dumping site have been categorised as highly affected households.
“All the villagers living nearby the area are living with respiratory diseases,” claimed Balami. “Besides wherever you go, in an eatery or homes up to three kilometeres from the landfill site, you are surrounded by flies.”
In September 2017, when Rabin Man Shrestha was the chief of its environment division, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City had given compensation to 300 families whose homes were up to 900 meters from the site, after they protested.
“During my tenure [of 15 years] there were over a dozen agreements with the local residents,” Shrestha told the Post. “The main problem is that garbage is being dumped at Sisdole beyond the area’s capacity.”
Last month too another agreement was reached between the local residents and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City to allow the Valley’s garbage to be collected and dumped at Sisdole.
As per the agreement, made in the presence of Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya, the City agreed to provide a grant of Rs 18.7 million to hire 31 teachers for primary and secondary schools in wards 1, 2 and 3 of Kakani Rural Municipality and ward 1 of Dhunebesi Municipality. The City also assured of constructing a 15-bed hospital in the area, and until then it has agreed to provide for the free health check-up and treatment of people from landfill site area in government hospitals in the Capital. Another agreement was to form a technical team for the land acquisition process from private landowners in the landfill sites where garbage has been dumped for years.
For the local residents, the cost of the garbage from the Kathmandu Valley is high.
Dibesh Shrestha, administrative officer at Sisdole Health Post, said every day over 40 people come to the health post with complaints of headache, diarrhea, respiratory problems and skin diseases among others.
He said even those working at the health post have problems.
“My colleagues and I have to suffer the stink throughout the day. When I reach home my mouth becomes full of a dark cough. We can’t live without drinking hot water,” said Shrestha, who has been working at the health post for the past 11 years. “Doctors don’t want to work there because of the stink.”
Records at the health post show that in the past one year 15 people have died of cancer in three different villages near Sisdole – Kagati Gaun, Chhatre Deurali in Dhunibeshi Municipality and and Seudeni in Kakani Rural Municipality.
“Most of them were lung and throat cancer patients,” said Shrestha who is also a local resident.
In Kathmandu if the garbage collection is obstructed for a week, it gets littered by dogs, rag-pickers besides polluting the city and causing inconvenience for pedestrians.
Meanwhile, Mayor Shakya who was elected to head the local government in 2017 after a 15-year gap, has been saying that the Kathmandu Metropolitan City alone can’t solve the chronic problem of garbage in the Valley, as it is collected from other 17 municipalities.
“As this is a common problem, the federal government should step in to solve the problem together,” said Shakya when he was addressing the demands of local residents of Sisdole last month.
Every year the Kathmandu Metropolitan City allocates a large budget to manage solid waste. This year it has allocated Rs240 million for garbage management but the money is spent only for fuel of the lorries that transport garbage and the salaries of drivers and other staff, according to Hari Shrestha, chief of its environment division.
Experts, however, say that the whole approach to garbage disposal is wrong.
“Landfill sites can never be a solution to Kathmandu's solid waste,” said Sumitra Amatya, a waste management expert and town planner. “Landfill station is an outdated idea, which developed countries had practised some six decades ago. Now the view is waste should be segregated and recycled.”
Dumping garbage into a landfill site also means leachate production, and if that is mixed with the river, it threatens the aquatic ecosystem, according to her.
The Solid Waste Management Act 2011 indeed states that the local bodies should ensure the separation of solid waste into at least organic and inorganic waste at its source. However the city has never been able to implement this provision despite numerous attempts.
Last year the Kathmandu Metropolitan City started a solid waste segregation pilot project from Naradevi in ward 18, with an awareness march, but that too didn’t work.
“But since people do not cooperate, we are not able to bring change in people’s attitude,” said Shrestha, the environment division chief.
According to him over 75 percent of the solid waste generated from Kathmandu Valley is biodegradable.
“Of the remaining 25 percent, 15 percent waste can be reused or recycled and there will be only 10 percent solid waste we need to manage,” argued Shrestha.
He said the City has already sent dustbins to over 80 percent of the households with a 75 percent discount on the cost price.
“We do regular miking asking people to segregate garbage and they know how. We have occasionally punished those who do not follow the rules, but during nights they throw the garbage onto the streets,” said Shrestha.
But for Amatya, what the City’s elected representatives are doing is not enough.
“Neither the local governments nor the federal one care about finding an effective solution to the garbage problem,” said Amatya. “ They are only concerned about building roads because they see hype in it.”
One solution, according to her, is that 80 percent of organic waste littering the streets of the Valley can be used if the government cooperates with pig farmers in the Valley.
“I wonder why the authorities are not adopting this method,” said Amatya.
According to last year’s data at the Departmentof Livestock Services, there are over 50,000 pigs being raised in the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley.
Using the estimate that one pig eats 10kg of leftovers, 50,000 pigs eat 500,000 kg of food waste, which is almost equivalent to the organic waste the Kathmandu Metropolitan City alone produces per day.
“People in the bureaucracy know this fact very well, but they do not bother to act, because they earn commissions from fuel and vehicle maintenance,” said Amatya.
She says only a ‘garbage recycle center,’ can only be a solution to solve the perennial garbage problem.
“Only 10 percent solid waste gets recycled in our case,” she said. “If the local government brings a new segregation plan, this can be a means to generate income for citizens.”
The Nepal government, including the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, had made such plans earlier to convert solid waste into compost manure and make money out of it, but the plans didn’t work.
In 2014 the Kathmandu Metropolitan City started a three-year Integrated Sustainable Solid Waste Management with an aim to produce 14KW of electricity with a joint investment of Rs 18.2 million of the City and the European Union.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City had announced plans to use the electricity to power the street lamps. But nothing came of the plan.
In 2016, the Investment Board Nepal had prepared to sign a project development agreement with two Nepali firms — Nepwaste and Clean Valley Company — to manage the Valley’s waste, but later it was cancelled.
Meanwhile, City officials and the federal government are planning on another landfill site at Banchare Danda, 1.9km west of Sisdole.
“Once the landfill site at Banchare Danda gets completed, the perennial problem of garbage will be sorted out,” said Shrestha, the environment division chief. “The landfill site is soon going to be open for garbage dumping.”
However, when the Post contacted Kumar Prasad Ghimire, deputy director general at the Urban Development Division under the Ministry of Urban Development, the work has been disrupted due to a dispute between the contractor and workers.
“We had planned to open Banchare Danda from June this year, but it’s unlikely given the circumstances,” said Ghimire. “But we will try our best to open it as soon as possible.”
He said the ministry has allocated Rs 800 million to construct the landfill sites in two different phases following a November 2018 Cabinet decision.
But for Valley denizens like Maharjan, the worry is more imminent.
“There is less than two months for the rainy season, and the road to Sisdole dumping site will get damaged and again the local residents will protest as it’s become a ritual,” said Maharjan. “In the streets of Kathmandu, garbage will get piled up and the City will do nothing to solve the problem permanently.”