Carefully crafted regulations may help maintain cleanliness, especially during the Eid-ul-Azha weekend
Recycling and eliminating mountains of solid waste is central to the goal of moving towards a pollution-free planet. Contaminated rubbish pollutes the air, water and soil, leading to environmental degradation and having serious human health repercussions.
Covid-19 has brought drastic changes to our daily lives, social interactions, communication, and more specifically, how we celebrate our festivities. Large gatherings, such as marriages, congregational prayers on Fridays, and Eids are seen as some of the reasons for spreading the virus. In Pakistan, an unprecedented surge was seen in the coronavirus cases post-Eid-ul-Fitr.
The transition from face-to-face meetings to virtual interactions, tutorial classes, and professional discussions is a major departure from our life’s routines. The greater use of virtual spaces has left us wondering if we will ever truly revert to our former lifestyles.
In the past few months, invitations to Go-To-Meetings, Zoom, etc., reminded us of brunch meetings and more socialising as wishful ideals. The lockdown is reported to have provided an opportunity for the wild animals to roam the man-made roads and dwellings.
There have been leopards roaming in Margala hills and rare varieties of fish at a sea shore; tiger attacks have been reported in India and kangaroos seen on the streets of Adelaide. The nature appears to have reminded us of the desirable ways of life on earth – should we wish for this to last.
As the entire country was in a smart lockdown amid increasing cases of corona-virus, the government made significant efforts to wash and disinfect megacities to prevent coronavirus from spreading. Most of the big cities in Pakistan were sprayed with disinfectants and chlorine in streets, roads, and markets. These antiseptics were sprayed as an initial move to disinfect the roads and housing infrastructure. However, these efforts could be further strengthened and make Pakistan clean and garbage-free.
Managing the (global) resource constraints, the country has used its fire-engines for the disinfection operation with expectations to yield good results. Wiping down the surface was an uphill task and success could only be achieved because of the absence of excessive public movement during Ramazan and before Eid.
Schools, markets, parks, mosques, airports, banks, government buildings, and roads were washed with spray having low-concentration bleach and water mixtures using fire trucks, water cannons, and other accessible machinery.
Waste is undoubtedly a big concern for maintaining the quality of life. For example, Karachi, a city of more than fourteen million people, produces the largest load of waste, causing trash to pile up all over the city. This, not only makes the city a large trash site, but also puts excessive burden on the fledgling garbage management system.
With cities growing, the amount of waste being produced is increasing fast. The environmental cost of waste is difficult to calculate thoroughly and accurately.
Although several garbage management companies operate in the city, in the face of absence of comprehensive policies for waste collection and disposal, the situation continues to deteriorate. Several initiatives have been taken to get rid of this menace. The recently started Clean My Karachi campaign can be taken as a pointer. The idea of a hyper-aggressive recycling programme to cut down on waste was not a part of this campaign as it appears to be an uphill task.
With cities growing, the amount of waste being produced is increasing fast. The environmental cost of waste is difficult to calculate with any certainty and precision. The more time a trash truck spends on picking up the waste, the grater its carbon footprints. This signposts the urgent need for a national solid waste management policy.
Replicating the Western good practices, installation of smart-bins may help garbage collection, making it more efficient and recyclable as well. The government of Pakistan needs a smart approach to trash collection that can be made obligatory for the cities like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Peshawar, Quetta, and Islamabad. Smart City cameras can also help dumpster-monitoring so that the vehicles may only be sent to the places where they are required.
It’s about time we coordinated efforts to take coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity by understanding the enormity of the issue and show responsibility on our part, especially at the time of Eid-ul-Azha. Carefully crafted policies and regulations may help improve and maintain cleanliness across the country. The Clean My Karachi campaign has consumed millions of rupees, and is an ongoing process with a lot left to be desired, however, it can be argued that this is an initiative in the right direction. The effort may be replicated in other mega cities by removing the colossal trash and then maintaining waste-free streets.
Eid-ul-Azha may be the best opportunity in terms of maintaining cleanliness, followed by strict enforcement, possibly with imposition of a fine for littering. One such step has been taken by district administration in Islamabad where leaves of more than 2,000 sanitary workers have been cancelled for the long Eid weekend.
As a nation we need to be cautious about another epidemic caused by garbage. In these crucial times, hospitals are producing tonnes of medical waste, including infectious materials. A study suggests that hospitals have generated six times more medical waste in times of coronavirus outbreak as compared to the time before the crises.
Most of the waste consisted of syringes and heaps of disposable personal protective equipment. The hospitals need to strictly follow the guidelines for garbage disposal.
As the pandemic slows down, the waste will grow and whatever cleanliness was achieved during the pandemic will vanish. During December 2019, Japan signed a deal with Pakistan to allow skilled workers to work in Japan. However, as a strange demand, besides a knowledge of the Japanese language, the workers were required not to speak loudly and to be aware of how to handle household trash.
The writers work at Sustainable Development Policy Institute and Punjab Food Authority, respectively. Views expressed by the writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of their employers