Even as the smoke from the Sonsoddo garbage dump that caught fire last week still pervades the atmosphere, forcing the temporary relocation of families living close to the dump, nations observe World Environment Day on Wednesday with the theme #BeatAirPollution.
Unfortunately, Goa’s experience on this count has not been the best. The State has for years struggled with varied forms of air pollution – coal dust pollution in Vasco town, mining dust pollution in the hinterland, and then rather unexpectedly came the ‘severe air pollution’ caused by the fire at the Sonsoddo garbage dump. Sadly, the State has not been able to curb any one of these to the satisfaction of the people.
Goa State Pollution Control Board, after an inspection of the burning garbage dump, reported that this has resulted in large amounts of pollution being released in the air which is causing serious environmental and health hazards. This can be borne by the fact that some people had to be temporarily shifted from the area to a safer place, before they were allowed to return to their homes. The fear of sickness due to the smoke is now very real. In this context, it is interesting to read what the UN website on the theme for this year’s World Environment Day has to say about the burning of garbage. “Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and black carbon into the atmosphere,” says the website.
This is a health hazard and Goa has just had an experience with it. The Sonsoddo fire was not deliberate, but the unsegregated waste that went up in flames has caused severe air pollution. This is the new pollutant that the State has to now battle, among the many that it is already fighting.
Garbage management almost does not exist in Goa. Except for the waste treatment plant in Saligao, there is no other unit that handles waste in a scientific manner. Even this one has been criticised for the foul smell emanating from it. The Sonsoddo fire has brutally highlighted the absence of any form of garbage management in South Goa. This is unsegregated waste at the dump that caught fire. Had it been just biodegradable waste the pollution and the resultant gases would not be so harmful to the health of people. While the fire at Sonsoddo has caught attention because of the volume of garbage, how is the garbage from the rural areas of Goa, or for that matter India, managed? In many cases it is set on fire causing pollution on a smaller scale and is therefore ignored.
Goa and India are not alone in the burning of its garbage. According to UN estimates, globally about 40 per cent of the waste is openly burned, with the problem being most severe in urbanising regions and developing countries. According to the UN data, open burning of agricultural and municipal waste is practised in 166 out of 193 countries. Since India is one of these countries, this makes it imperative to introduce proper practices in managing garbage in the country. A start could be made by segregating garbage at source. This one simple move will reduce the problem by a large margin.
On this World Environment Day, that calls on the people to beat air pollution, Goa needs to take up the challenge to show the rest of the country that it can course correct and make a difference for the better by reducing pollution. The fire at Sonsoddo will die down and could even start again, but coal dust and mining dust will continue unless measures are taken to curb them. The larger problem now is coal dust, as mining operations are at a halt. Can the government take this up?