Planning for rescuing Karachi from the solid waste crisis | Pakistan Today

Planning for rescuing Karachi from the solid waste crisis

  • The problem has solutions

Karachi is the economic hub of Pakistan, and has the highest population among all the 100-plus cities of the country. Yet the city is marred with the crisis of solid waste management (SWM). Having said that, the other cities of Pakistan also suffer from a crisis of SWM, yet not to that extent. This is linked with a poor overall performance of cities in the country in terms of liveability- a recent survey in this regard by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) put Karachi as the fourth least liveable cities in a sample of 140 cities.

The writer did not have the financial resources to purchase the whole list of cities ranking from EIU– and it could only be bought by an institution given the high level of price involved– but given personal experience living in Pakistan indicates that other cities may not be that high on the ranking after all.

Time is of a very valuable essence now, as the recent monsoon rains chocked many parts of the city, severely affecting not only the daily lives of the citizen, but also dented the economic activity. To start of the crisis at hand is not a straightforward matter, as it ticks many of the boxes that raises the bar for planning, since firstly, size of population is on the higher side, making collection and transportation waste a complicated task, and secondly, given the overall lack of development of the country means that the capacity of local bodies is weak, which allows randomness of effort to creep in given that being a hub of high economic activity, major commercial operations and industries rely on private arrangements for waste collection and disposal, especially of those wastes which may be radioactive, infectious, and hazardous.

Thirdly, the issue gets complicated since given a developing country context of low institutional quality and the underlying planning it generates, the city grew without planning, meaning that the once industrial clusters situated on the city outskirts, over time have been surrounded by residential colonies, making it in turn all the more difficult to properly collect, safely transport, and sustainably dispose SWM; especially of the hazardous types. Given that Karachi is also a port city, means that the water bodies and habitat have also been affected severely by years of polluting on account of miserably poor SWM arrangements.

Any policy that now gets formulated, will have to be fully cognisant of the enormity of crisis, and will need to go hand in glove with the overall urban planning of the city. Also, simultaneous to evolving of policy for ‘managing’ solid waste, it is important to ban/disincentivises certain items like plastic bags, cigarettes, crackers, among others– as have been done by many cities across the globe- to stop this kind of solid waste from getting generated in the first place; not to mention the overall health benefits to be derived from this.

A comprehensive and sustainable SWM policy for Karachi should touch the following areas, and which a) formulates an effective financial plan, b) involves the private sector, c) evolves a related environment management plan, internalising at the same time the damage caused to environment, d) is cognisant of the ways in which public health and safety-related issues have evolved, so as to come up with better remedial measures, e) brings into effect a mechanism through which the pricing of SWM services are appropriately priced, e) has a training component for handlers of SWM, f) has a plan to sustainably create awareness among all stakeholders, g) creates incentives for SWM underlying authorities, and other stakeholders like public and other generators of solid waste, and h) plans for emergency preparedness in case of a natural/man-made calamity, and in this there should be a liaison between SWM authorities and national/provincial disaster management authorities.

Given the enormity of the SWM crisis in Karachi, all sources should be tapped, and the overall capital investments are brought to affect in an aligned and harmonised way

Capital investments– for example with regard to making needed investments in creating/sustaining needed SWM-related infrastructure and in purchasing/maintaining vehicles– are an important pillar of a sound SWM policy, where along with support from national/provincial budgets/grants, other specific sources– apart from the overall foreign aid received in this direction– on the international front include, a) Sustainable Cities programme of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), b) Metropolitan Environmental Improvement Programme (MEIP) of the World Bank, c) UN-Habitat, and d) Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); all of which having been playing a significant role in improving SWM-related issues in some cities in Asia, and will therefore be hands-on in terms of the crisis at hand. Given the enormity of the SWM crisis in Karachi, all sources should be tapped, and the overall capital investments are brought to affect in an aligned and harmonised way.

Other specific governmental plans in this direction should include providing waivers/tax-credits on SWM-related imported equipment, along with providing a subsidy in terms of bearing a part of the import cost, which will in turn incentivise capital investments in this sector. Local taxes could be raised by government to allow generation of greater fiscal space for local bodies. Here, the local industry should also chip in, as a responsible generator of solid waste, and a plan should be evolved with them by the government.

At the same time, in addition to planning for capital investment, a SWM plan should also find ways in reaching greater funds to support the operational and maintenance activity involved. These could include, a) charging user or waste-end fees that are based on the quantum of waste being generated, which have been applied in Tokyo, Canberra, and Seoul, b) Japan, Australia, and Singapore, among other countries, have successfully adopted waste disposal fees, made payable by local authorities (and by private operators in areas where they provide the transportation service) at landfill sites, dumping grounds, other disposal facilities, c) applying a deposit-refund system (DRS) in which ‘a consumer has to pay a deposit at the time of purchase of an item which is usually a part of the merchandise price [and]… will be given a refund when the waste product, such as an empty bottle/container, is returned to the seller or to an authorised recycling/reuse centre’, something which Australia, for example, adopted whereby a refund was set between 10-15 per cent of the value.

At the same time, a policy of disincentives should also be formulated within the overall SWM policy framework, to discourage the discarding of wastage into the environment. Here, it could include extending tax benefits to those persons/organisations ‘who discard waste properly and impose additional taxes for others who do not discard at all’. Lastly, a set of punishments in the shape of pollution fines could be ‘imposed by collecting fines from a person who is indiscriminately discarding the waste harming environment and causing inconvenience to others’.

Omer Javed

The writer holds PhD in Economics degree from the University of Barcelona, and previously worked at International Monetary Fund. He tweets @omerjaved