Nothing in Nepal is what it seems. This is also true for the rotting piles of rubbish on the sidewalks. This is no ordinary trash: someone is letting it pile up to make a political point.
During his first tenure as a Local Development Minister back in 1991, Ram Chandra Poudel, embarrassed by public outrage over trash piling up on the streets, promised an end to Kathmandu\'s chronic garbage crisis.
Today, Poudel is back as Local Development Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister to boot) and the garbage is still here. And once more, just as in 1991, the heaps of rubbish signify the tussle between Poudel\'s ministry and the office of Kathmandu\'s mayor.
Kathmandu\'s long-suffering citizens are fed up. For them, the garbage is symbolic of everything that is wrong with politicians and their petty fights that is ruining the country. Communities are taking care of their own garbage collection, some are beginning to recycle and compost their waste (see box).
Kathmandu Metropolitan City and the Local Development Ministry are too busy blaming each other to find a lasting solution to the crisis. Added to this are local UML leaders who are leading irate villagers to prevent garbage disposal at present and future landfill sites.
The government\'s search for a new dumping site began when the Gokarna landfill filled up. New sites on the outskirts of the city were proposed to replace Gorkarna: Ramkot, Svuchatar, Thankot.
As an interim measure, the government started dumping garbage two weeks ago along the 8 km stretch of the Bagman River between Guheswori and Gokarna where city waste is being used as filling material.
Locals are incensed. "The big fellows made deals, nobody asked our opinion. If they had, we would never have agreed," says Budhi Devi Upadhaya of Kumangal.
Her neighbour Sabitri Upadhaya doesn\'t believe a word the government says. "They promised to spray disinfectants. I will only believe it when I see it."
There have also been vehement protests from experts who say the garbage will not just pollute a holy river, but seriously contaminate ground water. Garbage is never meant to be construction material for roads, and the refuse is creating bird hazards for the nearby airport."Unless the government learns to listen to professionals for technical advice and stops political interference, the problem will never disappear,\' says an irritated Bhushan Tuladhar at the Mayor\'s office in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City. This is not the first time that the government has refused to listen to professionals. In September 1995, a committee decided to develop Ramkot west of the city as an interim landfill, and Okharpauwa in Nuwakot district 21 km northwest of Kathmandu as a long-term landfill site.
The German aid group, GTZ that has been involved in helping Kathmandu\'s urban management for the past 30 years, concluded that both sites were geologically and technically inappropriate as well as too expensive to use because of the distance.
This did not deter the government, which pushed ahead with the two sites, spending Rs 50 million on a road to reach Okharpauwa. But money ran out, and the site was never prepared. Another Rs 20 million was spent on Ramkot, but even this was left unfinished.
"This is what happens when the government is not sincere about solving the problem," says Mayor Keshav Sthapit, who sees a government conspiracy to make life difficult for him.
In April 1998 the government decided to hand over responsibility of waste management to the KMC, and in return it was to arrange for the landfill site. KMC proposed compost manure factories to recycle biodegradable waste at future disposal sites, arguing that this would generate income and prolong the lifespan of sites. KMC also called for waste management bids from private parties, and 13 firms responded. Six were shortlisted, but everything is hanging in the air because the government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain by deciding on a site.
Says KMC\'s Tuladhar: "Kathmandu\'s garbage is not a big problem; it is just made to be so. KMC needs only a piece of land and a government signature to solve the problem in an environmentally sound manner."
The men at the ministry appear defensive. "We are working full swing to work out a long-term solution to the garbage problem," says Kul Prasad Marhatta, who is the coordinator of the impressive-sounding Solid Waste Management National Council at the Local Development Ministry.
The stink of Kathmandu\'s garbage seems to have become unbearable, even in the national Parliament. Poudel told the House that the government was "thinking of developing a landfill site in the area between Okharpauwa and Chhatre Deurali by changing the course of river.
He also said Syuchatar was still an option, and the government was trying to acquire land there. The selection process for national and international bidders to establish a garbage recycling factory had started, he claimed.
Poudel's promises have a ring of deja vu about it. People have heard it all before, and for now they have given up on national-level politicians ever solving the problem.
Environmental activist and KMC adviser Anil Chitrakar has observed the problem at close quarters for years, and says with an air of finality: "Unless politics is taken out of garbage, and garbage is taken out of politics Kathmandu\'s waste problem will never be solved."