Even while the Goa government constituted the Goa State Waste Management Corporation (GSWMC) as an important step towards making the state garbage-free by 2020 after commencing the operation of the state-of-the-art Solid Waste Treatment Plant at Saligao about a year ago, and is now seriously making efforts in setting up three more such plants – one each at Bainguinim, Verna and Kakoda – the garbage generation in the State has reached frightening proportions. Consequently, due to lack of adequate civic sense on the part of Goa’s residents and the abject failure of the various civic administrations to dispose of the garbage in a safe manner, the menace is posing a major public health hazard, particularly to those living in the urban areas of the State.
The garbage menace in the urban as well as the rural Goa is not limited to what meets the eye, that is, bulging community bins, rubbish piled on the street corners very often left for days in the open spaces to rot and pollute, besides garbage strewn over storm water drains and along various roads including the national highways. Some urban civic bodies have particularly implemented door-to-door collection with the help of resident welfare associations and outsourced private agencies to take the waste to the community bins. More generally, the waste is dumped unsegregated into the community bins. It is then collected from these bins and slowly finds its way – through transportation over long distances to its final destination – the so-called landfills, which are actually ‘garbage hills’. These dumpsites were originally located outside of the urban areas, but with cities and towns pushing the peripheries, the hills of garbage have moved closer, and so has the danger to people’s health.
Garbage left rotting in the open breeds germs, and germs are not deterred by the boundry walls of our homes. Consequently, Goa witnesses regular outbreaks of communicable diseases, which take a toll of human life every year. The major causes are diarrhoea, dysentery, diphtheria, tuberculosis, tetanus, measles and various viral infections, most as a result of poor sanitary conditions. Besides, during and after each monsoon season, malaria, dengue and gastroenteritis are common ailments across the state.
In fact, stagnant water due to blocked storm water drains and unhygienic conditions on account of rotting garbage lead to the breeding of mosquitoes and flies, and as a result thousands of malaria and gastroenteritis cases are being reported regularly in the state every year. Hundreds of people die annually of malaria alone, mainly in the urban areas. More than half the battle would be won if people themselves were more responsive to the need for managing disposal of our garbage in an appropriate and safe manner.
Mere statistics, alarming as they are, do little to reflect the sanitation crisis and its collateral damage to the State’s health. Urban and Rural areas together generate an estimated 4000 tonnes of garbage per day and does not have adequate capacity to handle this waste scientifically and safely. Of the total solid waste about 80 per cent is ‘collected’ from community bins, of which, presently 20 per cent or so is processed and treated, and the rest is simply dumped at the disposal sites.
Future projections indicate that with faster economic growth and rapid urbanization, Goa will be generating sold waste more than two-and-a-half times the present level – by 2030. Plastic waste has been increasing at a faster pace with its increased use for packaging, shopping bags, industrial products and building materials. About 70 per cent of the plastic packaging products turn into waste within a short period, and the recycling and disposal of plastic poses a huge challenge. Management of a large volume of waste with its changing composition will require a scientific approach, not our usual careless attitude. Reduction, reuse, recycling, recovery and scientific disposal will have to be at the centre of a new strategy of solid waste management.
The lack of adequate realization on the part of Goa’s residents of the public health consequences due to deteriorating management of solid waste, is hard to comprehend. Ideally, garbage should be segregated into wet waste (biodegradable, that is, kitchen waste), dry waste (such as paper, plastic, glass, metal, etc., some of which is recyclable), and hazardous waste (chemicals, medical and industrial waste, which needs separate treatment). If this is done, the wet waste can be processed into compostable products, the recyclable material can be sent for recycling, and the irreducible minimum waste can be sent to scientifically engineered landfills. The most important solution for management of solid waste, is segregation at source. We are very far from this ideal. You only need to take a drive down a highway or even a village road to see tonnes of unsegregated garbage thrown into storm water drains, paddy fields, under bushes, etc., in a most callous and evil manner.
When we are made aware of the problem, we get distracted into apportioning blame and do not explore solutions based on what has worked in other Indian cities and how they can be adapted or replicated. With politicians and bureaucrats as easy targets, we forget that the problem is as much due to our own lack of civic sense. We do not segregate waste at home, mixing our kitchen waste with discarded paper, plastic, glass and whatever else including old batteries, which makes the task of managing this mixed waste that much more challenging for the civic authorities.
Therefore, it is important for the State government to take note of the significant positive development in April 2016, when the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules of 2000 were revised. The new SWM rules make it mandatory for local civic bodies to arrange door-to-door collection of segregated solid waste, distinguishing wet waste, dry waste and hazardous waste, so that the waste can be distributed into difference processing streams. Since behavior change at the household level is crucial to achieve segregation at source, intensive awareness activity involving civic bodies, NGOs and resident welfare associations is critical.
(The writer is a freelance journalist).