Garbage management is one among many sectors of national life that is directly linked with the right to health, one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. Without an iota of doubt, it is the duty of the state to safeguard this and other fundamental rights. Without a doubt, this right is for both the people living at the sources of waste as well as those living close to waste disposal sites.
But this right, like other fundamental rights, has remained largely on paper. Waste collection and disposal coming to a halt has ceased to be news despite its serious impact on public health, especially at a time when the threat of coronavirus and other health risks are lurking.
Imagine, for example, the situation in the Kathmandu Valley, which is home to millions of people and produces 1, 200 tons of waste daily—15-20 percent of it is recyclable—when waste collection and disposal comes to a halt.
Avoiding such a situation requires increased coordination and cooperation between different tiers of the government, including the federal government, Kathmandu Metropolitan City and the local government, communities living close to the disposal sites, political parties as well as security apparatuses. Without a seamless coordination and cooperation, waste management is bound to come to a halt, much to the detriment of a large population.
Forget seamlessness in this crucial task, even working coordination and cooperation between the federal government and the KMC seems to be a far cry as a recent, much-publicized spat between Mayor Balen Shah and Singhadurbar shows.
Citing indifference on the part of Singhadurbar toward concerns regarding waste management, Mayor Shah has made it loud and clear that KMC will not collect garbage from nerve centers of the state, namely Singhadurbar and the Presidential Palace, unless the center addresses KMC’s concerns.
Singha Durbar, on its part, has deemed Shah’s move as irresponsible and reminded him of KMC’s responsibility.
This episode has once again shown that garbage management is a multi-lane way requiring all sides to work together for an obstruction-free traffic movement. Apart from concerns of people at the source, people living around disposal sites also have their concerns related to public health and the environment. Addressing conflicting concerns may not be easy, but there’s no shortcut to this problem. More often than not, political parties have faced charges of politicizing issues surrounding garbage management for petty gains. The onus is on them to mend ways and raise genuine concerns of the public.
Waste management in urban centers like the valley will require short-term, medium-term and long-term plans. The policy of reducing, reusing and recycling non-degradable waste may help mitigate the problem apart from the promotion of greener alternatives.
For now, the onus is on the feuding parties to sit together and prevent the conflict from aggravating further, in the larger interest of the public.