KARACHI   -   The Sindh government has renewed the contract of a Chinese firm to collect municipal trash from Karachi’s District West after the firm guaranteed that it would carry out its responsibilities effectively, it was reported on Wednesday. Sindh Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah chaired the meeting, the decision was taken at the 12th meeting of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) at the Sindh Secretariat.

The government had previously revoked the contract about a year ago after receiving complaints that the Chinese firm Hangzhou Jinjiang had failed to discharge its responsibilities in the district. The contract has been renewed on the assurance of the firm and in light of the arbiter appointed by the government to resolve the dispute.

Maintaining that all the firms’ assigned responsibilities in this regard were under a strict obligation to collect garbage, the Chief Secretary said no laxity would be accepted in the task of disposing of municipal waste from the city. Moreover, services of an independent audit firm should be hired for making payments in a transparent manner to the Chinese firms against their municipal waste disposal services, he said, adding that the Chinese firms were responsible to do municipal waste disposal work in four districts of Karachi.

He added that a progress report on the work done by them should be presented to the next meeting of the SSWMB. The chief secretary also directed that tenders should also be released for contracting the services of firms for doing garbage disposal work in the remaining two districts of Karachi, i.e. Central and Korangi.

The meeting constituted three committees for monitoring the performance of the SSWMB and related development and procurement affairs. The newly appointed Karachi administrator, Iftikhar Ali Shalwani, noted that the performance of the SSWMB had to be improved for ensuring cleanliness in the city. The meeting also approved the SSWMB’s annual budget of over Rs6 billion for the fiscal year 2020-21.

“Burning the garbage makes it easier for them to sift through,” explains Sohail Ahmed, director of solid waste at the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB). “These people are completely oblivious to the noxious fumes they are inhaling,” he adds.

But calling it a landfill site is also incorrect. In fact, Ahmed agrees it can more accurately pass for a dumping ground. “There is a science to developing a landfill site. For instance, for dumping municipal trash, it is first lined with clay and covered with half an inch thick plastic. The fresh garbage is continuously layered with soil and the idea is not to break down waste, just store it,” he explains.

But there have been countries that have generated electricity from burning this waste. The SSWMB also wants to do it. “I’ve been hearing about it all my life, and at various points in time, MoUs have been signed by both international and local companies but none has succeeded,” says Ahmed who has been working in solid waste management now for 27 years and knows not just the science and the engineering involved but also the inner working of the government department. The spewing, belching face of Karachi

Of the nearly 13,000 tonnes of garbage thrown out onto the city daily by a population of 13 million residents, nearly 70% reaches the two landfills; the rest remains strewn around the city in drains and some even finds its way quietly into the Arabian Sea. “I’d say roughly five per cent now goes into the sea, as dumping into the water has been controlled to a large extent,” says Ahmed. Earlier, the provincial chief secretary had told the chief justice that only “4.5 tonnes was left to rot” on the city’s streets daily.

“Anywhere between 400 to 500 trucks empty around 6,000 to 7,000 tonnes of trash in 24 hours,” said Abdul Salam, weighbridge operator, his eyes glued to the computer screen entering the data as truckers stop outside his office window to get themselves weighed. It’s a busy day as the trucks trundle along towards the landfill after getting the green signal.

Another 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes gets to the second 500-acre landfill site called the Gond Pass, near Hub river. The remaining 3,000-4000 tonnes of waste is generated in areas which fall under the administrative jurisdiction of other landowning agencies such as the six cantonment boards (army), industrial sites, the port, the railways, and the aviation authorities. In addition, nearly half of Karachi’s population lives in informal settlements.