The ever-rising heaps of garbage at the banks of river Jhelum have become a spectacle to avoid. The daily practice of the local municipality to intentionally dump and then lit on fire the garbage makes it difficult to breathe, increasing the higher ambient air pollution levels. Coupled with the emissions from heavy traffic on the old trunk road and the new GT road, the residents of the adjacent areas are exposed to a daily dose of toxicity.

This practice is harming the ecosystem of this beautiful city. The river water is increasingly getting contaminated, and air quality is deteriorating—which can potentially have a disastrous impact on human and river life.

The river Jhelum used to be a pleasant sight, particularly -at the banks of the city of Jhelum. The mesmerizing sight of the river flowing under three bridges located at a small distance makes its picturesque site. And, now burning waste in the middle of the river is an appalling sight for the residents. The Altaf Park, the only public recreational park in Jhelum, is located near the river, and the hazardous dumping yard is only a few hundred meters away from there. 

The water level of the river has drastically gone down, over the years, after India built the dams in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). 

After rising from the Vernag in IOK, the Jhelum river settles into Wular Lake at Srinagar. It emerges from the lake and receives the Kishanganga river in Muzaffarabad, and flows towards Punjab. At the city of Jhelum, the river turns southwestward along with the Salt range to Khushab.

Last year, a 6km long flood embankment starting from the new GT road bridge of Jhelum River to Tahlianwala village upstream Jhelum city is completed. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded the project, costing Rs1.7 billion. It did deter people from throwing the garbage straight into the water, but now the municipality dumps it in the dried part of the river. The municipality trucks carry the waste into the river, and mostly, in the evenings, they put it on fire. This daily practice has become a potential health hazard, and the people crossing the river or residing in the vicinity of the river had to inhale toxic air. Moreover, massive heaps of garbage at the banks of the river have deteriorated the scenic view of the Jhelum banks connecting the city with Gujrat, and it looks horrendous. 

Pakistan is facing an environmental disaster of epic proportions. Its glaciers are melting amidst the global rise in temperature. It’s a disaster in waiting, and despite the launch of Pakistan’s biggest tree plantation drive in August to combat the menace, gross waste mismanagement at the district and tehsil level is worsening the already dire situation.

It’s a common practice to dump the garbage on the streets. The prolific issue facing grappling Pakistan at the moment is Municipal solid waste management. The metropolitans like Karachi are not the only cities facing these issues.   

The municipalities in the small cities are also failing to perform their duties. Like any city in the province and country, piles of garbage are visible on street corners, spreading various diseases. And, when finally transported into the river, it gets burnt, discharging harmful gases into the air.

Jhelum is one of the smallest towns in the country and offers a perfect opportunity to develop a model city out of it. Yet, the civilian administration is not willing to work, and the problem persists. When approached, they don’t share a concrete or meaningful plan to disengage from this harmful practice. District Police officers and Deputy Commissioner Police usually go to cantonment areas for recreational activities in a peaceful and clean environment. They seem to neglect their duties towards the general public and never make efficient plans to devoid the city of this miserable sight.

The change of government did not have any impact on the performance of district administration. There is no proper waste collection mechanism. In some areas, the public is using the services of garbage collectors using the small loaders to throw the garbage away from the populated areas. But not everyone makes an effort to dispose of at the allocated places, and usually, the waste gets dumped on the street corners. Even when collected, solid waste is not collected separately. There are no controlled sanitary landfill sites in the city. 

The local councils never take the environment seriously and always fail to perform the job at hand. Citizens, by and large, are not aware of the resulting environmental and public health problems due to reckless disposal of the waste. 

The government needs to take immediate steps to reduce air pollution in the city. This continuous negligence can lead to several diseases from skin and eye infection to breathing problems and diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, malaria, hepatitis, and cholera. 

The prime minister acknowledges that cities are getting polluted but does nothing about it. The minister of science and technology, Fawad Chaudhry, should look into this horrendous issue facing his hometown. He should use his position in the government to stop this dumping of waste in the middle of the river and install waste disposal facilities and allocate proper landfill sites to avoid future catastrophes.