Who can possibly resist an opportunity to exchange rags for riches? Or garbage for gold? Apparently, the Punjab government can, since it has proved to be immune to such temptations. How else can you explain the inaction of various city governments as well as the Urban Development Unit of the Planning and Development Department in the face of offers by private sector entrepreneurs to not only remove waste from their landfill sites but also to pay them for it.
The opportunity has been born out of rising energy costs and fiercely competitive markets. Looking for economy and efficiency in energy costs, some enterprises have modified their kilns or boilers in a manner that allows the use of the nearly fifty percent combustible materials in municipal waste, as fuel.
Currently, municipal authorities collect garbage from cities and even the best equipped dump only part of it at designated land fill sites, which in themselves become environmental disasters. The remainder gets deposited at unauthorized sites or even open plots within the city. In Lahore, for example, less than half the solid waste generated by the city finds its way to Mehmood Booti which is the only authorized site. Conditions are far worse in smaller municipalities where resources are scarcer. And yet it does not have to be like this.
The solution to the problem is a municipal administrations dream. It can sell the rights to this waste and the buyers will sort out the combustible materials from recyclable glass, metals and other materials which can be sold separately. The combustible materials would be pressed into bales and transported to the industrial unit for use as Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). The residue would be disposed off with due care for environment concerns, as landfill. Private enterprises gain by procuring a cheaper fuel, the city administration gains in terms of revenue as well as efficient disposal of garbage and communities gain from a cleaner environment. A perfect win-win solution for all.
But despite the best intentions of all stakeholders, it has not happened. As soon as a process for awarding rights to the garbage is complete, the decision makers start considering some superior methodology. Should we adopt the Chinese model or go by the Mashhad experience? Six months later and after three visits to China and two to Mashhad, Punjab governments wizkid analysts shift into high gear and the question pops up again. Isnt the Turkish model superior? Off we go to Istanbul while the mountains of garbage keep getting higher and higher.
Nearly all big cities of Punjab are in the throes of this analysis induced paralysis – Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and others. Meanwhile, the opportunity available to city governments to improve garbage collection and removal, to introduce environment friendly disposal of waste and to support Punjab industry which is struggling against power interruptions and rising costs, goes amiss.
In a way, the problem is one of too many cooks. Every tier of the government has a say in the issue, whether it is the Alternate Energy Board of the Federal government, the Urban Unit of the Punjab government or 36-odd district governments in the Punjab. Perhaps we could cut the Gordian knot by encouraging every District and Town Administration to establish land fill sites and award rights to solid waste management through a transparent and competitive process. The lessees operations may be governed by a set of conditions which enforce compliance with environmental and health concerns. In short, the government has to stop thinking and start doing something in this regard.
Have the managers of Punjabs cities ever heard that even a bad decision is better than no decision at all?