Garbage piles make life difficult in KathmanduWith the onset of monsoon and garbage rotting in the streets, doctors say there is high risk of outbreaks of communicable and vector-borne diseases.
On Monday morning, when Ashika Devkota opened her kitchen door, she came across an unusual sight. The garbage bin was toppled by the side and its contents littered all over the kitchen floor by rodents. Flies and gnats were hovering all over and cockroaches were scuttling on the floor.
“I shut the door and returned to the bedroom as I could not tolerate the stinking smell,” said Devkota, who has been residing in a rented flat at Tarakeshwar Municipality-5 in the northwestern corner of Kathmandu. “Life has become too tough for us due to the piling waste in the kitchen. Now it has become difficult to even stay at home due to the stench.”
With the locals of the Sisdole area, the landfill site in Nuwakot district, obstructing garbage disposal in their area for the past two months, door-to-door garbage collection in most areas of the Kathmandu Valley has been halted completely.
With the stoppage in collection, heaps of rotting garbage lie unattended not only in every corner of the Valley, but also at homes, making life unbearable for people like Devkota.
As the monsoon has already entered the country and heaps of household waste are rotting in the streets, the risk of outbreaks of communicable and vector-borne diseases has risen, doctors warn.
“The uncollected garbage piles have increased the risk of communicable diseases outbreaks manyfold because the city is densely populated,” said Dr Rajiv Shakya, an infectious disease expert at the Dhulikhel Hospital. “It will be difficult to contain infections if an outbreak occurs.”
Experts say garbage piles provide a suitable environment for vectors spreading dengue, chikungunya, and Zika, among other diseases, to breed. Similarly, leachate from the garbage piles can contaminate water sources including drinking water mains, which are old and have developed leaks in many places.
Water borne diseases—diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, and Hepatitis ‘E’, among others—which are common in the monsoon season are usually triggered by food and water safety or hygiene issues.
“Since the last two months, garbage collection has halted in our area,” said Namuna Panta, a native of Gorkha who now resides in a rented flat at Goldhunga in Kathmandu. “It has been very difficult to stay indoors due to the stink.”
Sri Krishna Adhikari, who resides in a rented room at Naya Bazar area in ward 16 of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said he could not bear the garbage stench at home and disposed of it on the street at night so that nobody saw him.
“I'm residing in a single rented room and preparing for exams,” said Adhikari, who is a bachelor’s 2nd year student. “I could not concentrate on my studies because the room was too smelly due to the garbage.”
Waste management has been a perennial problem in Kathmandu Valley, which produces around 1,200 tonnes of garbage every day. People of the Valley have for long been raising the issue but authorities have invariably failed to address the problem.
Every year, thousands of people get infected with water borne diseases, and what is concerning is cases of vector-borne deadly diseases including dengue have been reported in many districts across the country this year.
In October 2021, Kapilvastu district witnessed a massive cholera outbreak, which killed at least four, including three minors, and infected over 1,200 people.
Stool samples of patients confirmed the presence of Vibrio Cholera 01 Ogawa serotype and E coli bacteria in drinking water samples of the disease-hit areas.
According to officials at the Ministry of Health and Population, prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases could be several times more than the reported cases as there’s no system to track outbreaks.
Health Ministry data from the last fiscal year show that for every 1,000 children under five years of age, 349 suffered from diarrhoeal diseases.
“The risk of outbreak of water-borne and vector-borne diseases has risen this year due to the disruption in garbage collection,” Dr Gokarna Dahal, an official at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said. “Since garbage collection has become a politically charged issue at present, we cannot make more comments. We can just say that the risk of outbreaks has been growing.”
Officials at the Environment Management Department at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City said that garbage collection has completely halted after the new leadership took charge of the city.
“Our new mayor is trying to convince protesting locals of Sisdole area to halt their ongoing protests,” Sarita Rai, chief of the Department, said. “Earlier, we dumped some waste in Sisdole landfill with the help of securities agencies, but the City’s new leadership is against using force against the locals. So garbage is piling up in the streets.”
What is worse is there is no sign of the City and the protesting locals reaching any kind of agreement anytime soon.
“The more time we take to clear the garbage piles, the more the risk of disease outbreaks will increase,” said Dahal of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.