Facing piles of trash, Sindh officials take the easy way out in Karach

Facing piles of trash, Sindh officials take the easy way out in Karachi

Over 1,200 tonnes of domestic waste are dumped, burned at Malir riverbed on a daily basis

Garbage trucks line up to dump trash at the Malir riverbed. Residents of the area claim that the waste is regularly burned at the site. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Garbage trucks line up to dump trash at the Malir riverbed. Residents of the area claim that the waste is regularly burned at the site. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: An unpleasant stench wafts through the Malir riverbed, in front of a number of high-rise buildings in Defence View. At frequent intervals, the foul odour mingles with acrid smoke. The riverbed is home to a garbage transfer station (GTS), where over 1,200 tonnes of domestic waste are dumped and burned day and night.

While the smoke and smell from the garbage makes the lives of area residents miserable, the authorities ignore the immense pollution emanating from the dump. While the federal, provincial and city governments have all claimed to fix the trash problem of the metropolis, it appears those in charge of the matter are taking the easy way out by resorting to an old practice – burning the waste.

According to residents, the practice of dumping and burning trash in the riverbed has continued unabated for the last few years, despite their repeated appeals to the Sindh chief minister, the Karachi mayor and the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB).

Work at the station begins in the wee hours of each day, continuing into the night. “Dozens of vehicles loaded with garbage wait for their turn to be offloaded,” pointed out Afzal Ahmed, who lives in nearby Junejo Town.

“Every other day, they burn the solid waste inside the river, a portion of which has been encroached,” he explained. Gesturing towards the dump, he said one can see the thick smoke hovering over the area, which causes respiratory problems and other issues.

Zainur Rehman, who lives in an apartment building in the neighbourhood, claimed the garbage station has made life hell for people residing in the area. “We can’t even open the windows or doors of our flats because of the stench,” he complained.

Two government employees supervising operations at the dumping site denied burning any waste. “Scavengers lit the waste on fire,” claimed one of them, refusing to disclose his identity. “It was only piled up here because of a dispute between the contractor and the government over payment.”

The site in question falls under the remits of the East district municipal corporation (DMC). However, speaking to The Express Tribune, East DMC chairperson Moeed Anwar distanced himself from the matter.

“We have nothing to do with the dumping. The SSWMB is responsible for creating the problem,” he insisted. “We receive complaints about it every day from people in the area. We have written to higher authorities in the Sindh government, but no one has given us any tangible response.”

According to officials, there are five such GTSs, located in Sharafi Goth, Baldia, Qasba Colony, Dhobi Ghat and here at the Malir riverbed. Almost all of them are either in densely populated areas, or near them.

“These are temporary stations, where garbage is shifted from nearby areas. Our contractors move the waste to landfill sites in Surjani Town’s Jam Chakhro the same day as it is dumped,” said Almas Saleem, the SSWMB spokesperson.

A criminal offense

“Burning the garbage is a criminal offence,” stated Zahid Farooq, the joint director of the Urban Resource Centre. “The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency and other related authorities must take action against those involved.”

When asked why the waste was being burnt, Saleem expressed ignorance about the matter. “Our GTS directors will be in a better position to explain that,” she added.

However, GTS director Ali Raza refuted allegations of burning the garbage. “A fire may have occurred because of rotting garbage, which releases methane gas,” he claimed, adding that they had devised a plan to use the latest facilities for the GTSs so that the waste does not pollute the environment.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2020.

Hafeez Tunio

Hafeez Tunio works as a reporter for The Express Tribune, Daily English newspaper affiliated with The International New York Times. Hafeez covers politics, environment, water and sanitation, human rights, minority and women issues. He says he wants to write on environmental issues because he loves nature - in spite of what it did to him.

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