Rethinking Punjab’s waste management

By embracing innovative solutions, the Punjab Cities Programme is poised to usher in an era of sustainable development

Rethinking Punjab’s waste management


midst bustling traffic and urban sprawl along the Grand Trunk Road from Lahore to Gujranwala, a mound of solid waste by the roadside near Kamoke catches the eye. Beyond its mere presence, few ponder the profound environmental and societal perils it signifies.

This accumulation of solid waste represents a multifaceted challenge that transcends mere aesthetics.

Pakistan generates 49.6 million tonnes of solid waste annually. The amount is growing by 2.4 percent annually. 87,000 tonnes of solid waste is accumulating weekly. Urban centres like Karachi, Lahore and Faisalabad lead the waste production. Karachi, with a population of 20 million, churns out more than 16,500 tonnes of municipal waste daily. Lahore and Faisalabad contribute 7,690 and 5,017 tonnes, respectively.

Some of the waste is incinerated. The rest is dumped or buried in vacant spaces that soon turn into ominous threats to public health and well-being. In the Punjab, eight Solid Waste Management Companies collect urban waste. Rural areas and smaller towns rely on local governments for waste collection and disposal. A substantial volume of waste remains uncollected and gets into sewer lines, freshwater sources and living areas.

Many urban centres neglect funding waste management. Many citizens view it as a state-provided service rather than something citizens to have to pay for. Consequently, most residential and commercial users don’t directly contribute financially to municipal authorities for waste management services. Fees are paid mainly by residents of private housing societies and cantonment boards.

This poses a significant challenge for provincial governments, particularly in the Punjab, where urban population is growing rapidly and local governments are often ineffective. Financing waste collection, transportation and disposal is a pressing issue.

Over the past decade, the Punjab government has struggled to implement a sustainable business plan for waste management operations. Historically, it has relied on grants from the provincial resources and donor-funded programmes to finance both capital and operational costs for waste management companies and tehsil municipal authorities.

The repercussions of improper waste disposal manifest in environmental degradation and heightened health risks. Inadequate sanitation and hygiene precipitate digestive ailments, diverting vital energy from growth to combating infections, thereby impeding child nutrition and fostering stunting—a pernicious form of malnutrition characterised by substandard height-for-age ratios.

Child stunting, endemic in Pakistan, constitutes a formidable impediment to the nation’s potential, compromising cognitive development, weakening immune systems, curtailing educational attainment and perpetuating intergenerational cycles of debilitation.

Under the World Bank funded Punjab Cities Programme, addressing the challenge of solid waste management has been prioritised through strategic investments. So far, Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company which is the implementing agency under the Local Government and Community Development Department, has provided machinery, valued at Rs 3.4 billion, to 16 partner cities.

Urban centres often neglect funding waste management, viewing it as a state-provided service rather than something citizens pay for. Most residential and commercial users don’t contribute financially to municipal authorities for waste management.

This machinery includes garbage collectors/ compactors, tractors and pick-up vehicles. In addition, parking sheds have been erected at municipal committee offices to ensure proper care and maintenance of the equipment.

These provisions have yielded tangible improvements in the cleanliness standards of these cities. The deployment of modern machinery has facilitated the efficient collection and disposal of waste, resulting in a remarkable increase in waste removal rates. More than 80 percent of the waste is currently lifted. This is a substantial enhancement from the previous rates of 40-50 percent. There is a pressing need for further enhancement.

While the infusion of machinery has ameliorated waste management practices, it constitutes merely one component of a comprehensive solution. The establishment of proper landfill sites is a crucial imperative. These facilities will provide designated areas for the safe disposal of waste, mitigating environmental hazards associated with indiscriminate dumping and fostering sustainable waste management practices.

The World Bank-funded Punjab Cities Programme is working to address the sewage management in the Punjab. The initiative is currently focusing on developing comprehensive solutions for 11 out of the 16 partner cities. The participating cities are Wazirabad, Hafizabad, Jhang, Gojra, Jaranwala, Kamalia, Okara, Khanewal, Bahawalnagar, Burewala and Kot Addu. Upon completion, the project will benefit more than 4 million residents.

Spearheaded by the Punjab Municipal Development Fund Company, which is to oversee the implementation of this project across all 16 cities, the program represents a significant investment in the region’s infrastructure.

With more than Rs 17 billion allocated for these sewerage schemes, the endeavour aims to provide holistic solutions to the sewage challenges faced by these cities. What sets these sewerage schemes apart is their end-to-end approach.

In addition to laying down sewer lines, the programme entails the construction of wastewater treatment plants. This aspect is particularly noteworthy as it offers a sustainable solution to the sewage problem and mitigating its adverse environmental impacts.

By treating wastewater, these plants prevent contamination of underground water sources, thereby safeguarding public health and the environment. The treated water can be repurposed for irrigation purposes.

The sludge produced during the treatment process can be utilised as a fertiliser, further enhancing the programme’s sustainability and economic viability. The initiative not only aims to alleviate the sewage woes of these cities but also promises to generate additional revenue streams for the relevant municipal committees.

By embracing innovative solutions and prioritising environmental stewardship, the Punjab Cities Programpe is poised to usher in a new era of sustainable development in the province, where the management of sewage is both effective and environmentally responsible.

There has been a notable emphasis on addressing the challenges of sewerage and solid waste management under the incumbent chief minister. Recognising the urgency of the situation, the current administration is aiming to bolster infrastructure and implement innovative strategies to tackle these pressing issues.

Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz has articulated a vision for the Punjab that prioritises environmental sustainability and public health.

The chief minister’s stance underscores a commitment to foster cleaner, healthier communities and laying the groundwork for sustainable development in the Punjab. By leveraging political will, administrative acumen and public-private partnerships, the current administration is trying to usher in a new era of progress aligned with the principles of environmental stewardship and socio-economic prosperity. The realisation of this vision will require concerted action and unwavering commitment from all stakeholders.

The writer, a media and communications professional, has been working in the development sector for 15 years. He can be reached at Twitter: @Idrees_Haider

Rethinking Punjab’s waste management