Garbage has begun piling up along the city's sidewalks and main thoroughfares once again after the municipality stopped dumping waste along the banks of the Bagmati River. And matters may get worse once the government's temporary holding site in Teku is used up, mainly because the government and municipal officials have failed to find a lasting solution to manage waste.
The dumping along the Bagmati was stopped after several aircraft suffered bird hits at the Tribhuvan International Airport recently, which many said could have resulted because the waste was attracting the birds. The government had been using the waste as landfill material for an 8-km section of road that is being built since July amid loud opposition from locals and environmentalists who argued that seepage from the waste would contaminate the waters of the "holy" river. But it was only the sudden increase in bird strikes at the airport that forced it to reconsider its decision.
Sources at the Local Development Ministry told us that they were convinced that the use of garbage in road-building was the best immediate solution they could think of for managing the waste. "Studies have clearly established that using city waste as filling material for the Guheshwori-Gokarna road was totally safe and certainly not the cause for the bird hazard at the airport," said Kul Prasad Marhatta, member-secretary of the Solid Waste Management National Council at the Local Development Ministry.
The government's search for a permanent dumping site began after the Gokarna landfill had run out of space. It has been considering four other potential sites since-Ramkot, Syuchatar, Thankot, and Okharpauwa-and has even spent millions to build the necessary infrastructure at Okharpauwa and Ramkot, despite claims by experts that both sites were inappropriate.
In April 1998, the government decided to hand over the responsibility for waste management to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), and committed itself to making arrangements for a new landfill site. KMC came up with a better idea and proposed that compost plants also be set up to re-use biodegradable waste, arguing that this would generate income and also prolong the life span of the landfill.
KMC went ahead and sought bids from private businesses willing to invest in such a project and even signed a memorandum of understanding with Sushil Vanaspati Pvt Ltd in August last year. "We then asked the government to find us a plot of land to set up the factory as agreed upon earlier but never received an official response," says an irritated Bhusan Tuladhar at KMC. Instead, the government began suspecting the motive behind the MoU with the private company and published another advertisement inviting new bids. The evaluation and selection of the potential company to manage the capital's waste remains in limbo, even as newspapers reported last week that a plan by the evaluation committee to go abroad to "study" waste management was rejected by the government.
KMC had identified two sites at Chobhar and one at Sundarighat for setting up the compost plant. The government, however, seems to have other plans-to build a link road to Okharpauwa where it would allow companies to build the compost factory.
Thirteen companies had responded to the ministry's call for proposals from firms interested in taking over management of Kathmandu's solid waste. Six were short-listed and three-Sushil Vanaspati, Luna Nepal and NEPCO International-have made it past the second round.
"We'll start building the link road to Okharpauwa (in Nuwakot district 20 km northwest of Kathmandu) immediately after Tihar," Marhatta told us. "It will be completed in eight months after which one of the three firms will be selected to build the compost plant," he adds. That way, he claimed, Kathmandu's solid waste management problem would be solved permanently in two years' time.
Clearly the city, which generates 300 tonnes of garbage every day, cannot wait that long. Tuladhar says there is still time for the government to re-think its decision. He also adds that if the factory is located closer, less money would be needed to build infrastructure, and should the best proposal be selected now, the composting would be up and running by summer next year. Either way, it will certainly be a long time before Kathmandu is rid of its waste.