Will this city never be clean?

Rokeya Rahaman | Update:

A first-page report of Prothom Alo on 18 September stated that there was a Tk 200 million business involved in household garbage removal in the capital city. That amounts to Tk 240 crore (Tk 2.40 billion) in a year. This garbage is collected by private companies and the residents have to pay them much higher than the city corporation’s fixed fees. And this garage collection business is controlled by the local councilors, as well as leaders and workers of Awami League and its affiliated organisations. There is often clashes and conflict over the business. The bottom line is, these trash traders cash in big time on the additional payments having to be made by residents of the city corporation areas.

The report shed light on many details of garbage collection. It all began in the eighties as a social service in Kalabagan. A nominal fee would be collected per house for the purpose. The residents of Kalabagan who took this initiative deserve special thanks. Their initiative has cleared the way to today’s garbage collection system.

Before this system was introduced, garbage would have to be dumped in the roadside open garbage containers. Normally the household domestic help would do this job. If there was no such help, then members of the family would have to do it. The stench of the dustbin was unbearable and many would just throw the garbage within close proximity of the dumpster. So the area in and around the dumpster would be filthy and stinking. It often still is so.

Initially when the house-to-house garbage collection began, the fee was Tk 10. In 2009 the city corporation raised this to Tk 30, though the corporation didn’t get a cut from it. The fee now is between Tk 100 to Tk 120 and even higher in the upscale areas of the city. The fee may go up further in future. The city corporation has no control over this.

The private garbage collecting companies have an association called the Primary Waste Collection Service Providers (PWCSP). It is registered with the city corporation as a waste management organisation. It has in the meantime proposed a raise in fees. Waste has boosted the wealth of many involved in the business, and there is no denying that this is an essential service. The city corporation only removes the garbage from the garbage containers in the specified spots and the secondary transfer stations.

According to the UN World Urbanisation Prospector report, Dhaka’s population presently stands at 17 million. And according to a study of the World Bank, Dhaka city generates about 7000 metric tonnes of waste every day. About 5500 tonnes of this comes from households and shops.

Dhaka has two city corporations now, but neither has displayed much success when it comes to waste disposal. While household garbage is cleared on private initiative, the state of the streets is pitiful. There are hardly any localities in the city where this garbage is removed regularly.

The city corporation cleaners do not always clean the streets properly, other than in the high-end areas. Garbage remains strewn by the roadside for days on end. This eventually ends up in the gutters, blocking the drainage system.

A recent report of Prothom Alo pointed out that most of the trucks carry garbage to the dumping stations, do not have any tarpaulin covering. So as the trucks move along the city road, the stench is overwhelming and garbage falls out all over the place. This is not cleared up. This is a health and environmental hazard. Germs and diseases spread. It is an alarming situation.

This is how things stand. The city residents live amidst the filth. Before the city corporation elections, the mayoral aspirations overflow with promises of a cleaner city, a greener city. But fulfilment of these promises never sees the light of day. Will thing continue thus? Will our dear city never be a clean one? If other cities of the world can be spic and span, where is our constraint? Why can the city corporations not keep the city clean? Is there nothing to be done?

The city corporations invariably point to paucity of funds and logistics. So the first task would be to boost the budget and the manpower. If that is not possible, then, as in the case of the household garbage collection, the private sector can be appointed to do the job for a reasonable fee. At least the city will be clean. Of course, care must be taken that this does not turn into a rampant money-making scheme at the cost of the citizens.

The entire blame should not be placed on the city corporation. We must look at ourselves too. Do we, the city residents, always have clean habits? Many of us just fling our garbage here and there. We throw our chips packets on the street, our ice cream cups by the roadside. Some of us even refuse to spend on the private garbage collector and simply dump the waste at the street corner. Unless we change such habits, the city will remain dirty. In developed countries, one is fined or such indiscriminate littering. Such fines for littering can change our habits here too.

According to experts, the waste collected in Dhaka city corporation can be utilised to produce electricity and organic fertiliser. The department of environment has reportedly taken up an initiative to convert the rubbish in a resource. It has begun work on establishing two waste management plants to convert the city’s trash into fertiliser.

Such news gives a glimmer of hope. Maybe soon we will have a clean Dhaka city. Whatever it may be, it is imperative that a scheme be put in place to ensure cleanliness of the capital city.

* Rokeya Rahaman is a journalist. This column, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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