Sunday July 03, 2022

Towards cleaner cities

October 29, 2019

World Cleanup Day 2019, which was commemorated on September 21, was successful in directly mobilizing more than 20 million people across the world.

On this day, volunteers and partners worldwide came together to remove trash, and clean up litter and mismanaged waste from beaches, rivers, forests and streets. Ostensibly, in one day, these volunteers were able to collect and remove more than 88500 tons of waste. Last year, with the same slogan, this global social action programme was able to mobilise around 17.5 million people across the globe, including three million people alone in Pakistan.

If we look into the past, this idea of ‘world-cleaning’ started from Estonia in 2008, where 50,000 people came out and cleaned up their entire country in just five hours. Later on, it gave people across the world the inspiration to initiate something with the ambition of a “one country, one-day formula”.

After 11 years, World Cleanup Day has become a movement of sorts through which common people irrespective of their caste, religion, sex and age are working towards the same goal. The idea is cooperation with positivity to empower and develop leadership of the new generation by adding technology and mobilizing people around the world to clean their communities. In short, it is an annual social action programme with the aim to combat the global solid waste problem.

Today, when we look around, we see that there is not even a single Pakistani city which can make to the list of the world’s best cities to live. On the other hand, unfortunately, there are Pakistani cities which make to the list of worse cities of the world to live in. Admittedly, our governments seem helpless in cleaning up our big cities in accordance with international standards – which is why we have an unhygienic urban population.

Currently, our major cities are facing issues of solid waste management and sewerage. The question is: are only governments responsible for all the mess, or are we residents also accomplices? The second question: is how can we clean our cities?

Environmentalist are in agreement that very few people carry their domestic solid waste to designated places; the majority are unfortunately throwing it into canals, drains and streets. This ends up leading to canal pollution, drains blockage and urban floods in the rainy season.

There was a time when the people used to drink water from irrigation canals and would even bathe there, the water being clean and fresh. Today, we can’t even imagine standing for a few minutes at the bank of an irrigation canal. Regrettably, untreated domestic, industrial, hospital and agricultural waste and sewerage have polluted the water of these canals. And people have also diverted household sewerage there and are throwing solid waste into these canals.

Last week, the Peshawar High Court took up this important case and directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to stop domestic and other sewerage and waste into the canals by constructing alternate drains. The question is: why were people allowed to use these irrigation canals as sewerage drains and dumping places for their domestic and other waste in the first place? If implemented properly, only the irrigation laws in vogue were sufficient to curb these illegal activities, but it seems no one cared.

Now we are at the stage that forcible removal of direct pipe inlets, toxic/non-toxic waste into the canals will not be possible, until the government constructs and provides an alternate drainage and sewerage system. Similarly, it would also be near impossible for the government to collect domestic solid waste door to door and stop people from throwing it into the canals.

We the public can also try and stop polluting our canals and streets, if only we carry our domestic waste to the designated places placed by the municipality and stop throwing it into streets and canals.

Besides this, the untreated domestic, industrial and agricultural sewerage is continuously drained into rivers leading to water pollution. Sadly, there are very few cities where proper sewerage treatment plants are functional. For instance, currently, there is no operational sewerage treatment plant in Peshawar.

At present, the Peshawar High Court is hearing various other important petitions regarding abandoned and dysfunctional sewerage treatment plants wherein the government has been directed to take cogent steps for the rehabilitation of plants, but due to financial burden, it seems difficult to be achieved in the near future.

Similarly, more than two years ago, the KP government imposed a ban on the import, manufacturing, sale and use of non-biodegradable scheduled plastic products including shopping bags; however, implementation of the ban even now seems nowhere. At a time when there is an immense need for legislation on municipal offences, implementation of municipal penal laws should be a priority for the government so as to stop municipal offences and keep the cities clean.

The world has adopted modern methods for processing municipal waste, but unfortunately in Pakistan, the traditional methods of solid waste management are practised – including burning and dumping. Further, successive governments have failed to ensure a master plan of every city which may include every aspect of the population for improved standards of living.

On the pattern of World Cleanup Day, all stakeholders, including the government, civil society, public functionaries and common people, need to volunteer for this and work together. In this regard, civil society and academia can play a vital role by sensitizing and mobilizing the public, especially the younger generation, to work together in order to make our cities clean. We can do it if we work together with positivity and cooperation.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

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