Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 46, Tuesday, April 20, 2004




The Green Scene

YOU wake up in the morning, stretch, yawn, go to your window to take a deep breath of fresh air, and what you get is a nose full of a horrid stench from a nearby garbage heap. You decide to go out for a stroll. The sky is clear, the birds are chirping, and you're getting into your pace, when suddenly, the ground gives way under your feet, and you go flying, landing with a loud thump on the ground…right next to the discarded banana peel that literally gave you the slip. Does this sound familiar? Are you getting fed up of this lifestyle? Maybe it's time you should do something about it.

The issue of waste management is a pressing one for most Dhakaites. Our capital city is the 22nd largest city in terms of growing population, and is well on its way towards becoming a mega-city. More people means more waste, so I'm sure you get the picture…and even if you don't, a glance at the oli-golis around the city will more than suffice.

As grim as this grimy situation sounds, there are some things to smile about. Recently, people have become aware of the problem, and have taken matters into their own hands. The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) is encouraging community-based organizations and local NGO's to organize and carryout community waste management programs (mainly house to house collection and disposal). The pilot project of Dhanmondi Solid Waste Management is the first DCC approved Solid Waste Management Pilot Project and Sheltech Consultants (Pvt.) Ltd. (SCPL) is the organization that is carrying out the project. Initially the project has started in a small chunk of Dhanmondi (Block G & H) to find out and determine more possibility of interactions and feedback to apply effectively in whole Dhanmondi area.

There are similar types of initiatives in various parts of the city organized by either community-based organizations or by the NGOs. Their efforts however, despite being welcomed by residents of these areas, have not so far provided a relief for the adverse impacts of inadequate solid waste management. This is because they only provide the service of door to door collection and then dump that waste at the dustbins located on the main street, where from DCC has to collect the waste for final disposal. The dustbins at the main streets are not being maintained and supervised properly, so animals and scavengers throw the waste out of the dustbins while searching food and recyclable materials. On the other hand DCC is not efficiently removing the waste from the dustbins due to financial and institutional constraints. Therefore, the overall scenario for the solid waste management does not change with the community-based initiatives, which are only focused on not in my backyard (NIMBY) approach. Even, if the collection from dustbins for the final disposal is made efficient, but still the major part of the problem will remain unsolved. The final disposal requires sanitary landfill or high-tech incineration and due to poor financial viability, DCC is not in a position to spend on these facilities. Hence, the problems related with the final disposal will remain there even after the hectic efforts from the communities and efficient coordination with the DCC for the primary collection of the waste. Even so, the fact that more people are becoming actively aware of the problem of waste disposal, and are trying to find solutions for it, is a step in the right direction.

Which brings us to Waste Concern, founded in 1995 by Maqsood Sinha, an urban planner-architect, and Iftekhar Enayetullah, a civil engineer-urban planner. The pair met while completing their separate graduate research on urban waste management and decided to work together to develop programs in this area. Initially, the two young entrepreneurs intended to convince government agencies to develop the community-based composting plants, even promising free consulting services to support governmental efforts. When they could not convince the authorities, a government official listened to their ideas and then challenged them: if their ideas for community-managed compost plants were so great, why didn't they create it themselves? The challenge was an inspiration, and thus Waste Concern was born.

So what is so great about Waste Concern? Working in partnership with communities, this organisation has set in motion a process for house-to-house solid waste collection that is then taken to community-based composting plants to turn the waste into organic fertiliser. Waste Concern arranges for fertiliser companies to purchase and nationally market the compost-based enriched bio-fertilizers it produces, thereby providing jobs for urban poor that collect the waste and work in the local plants and stimulating behavioural changes in urban communities and the waste management industry. In addition, Waste Concern helps to address the environmental problem of diminishing topsoil fertility due to the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in Bangladesh. At present, 30,000 people are benefited from Waste Concern's project in Dhaka. Every year, Waste Concern produces 500 tons of compost, but the demand from farmers is rising so much that the fertiliser company marketing it estimates present demand at 10,000 tons per year. Because of its novel approach, Waste Concern has received wide media coverage and recognition. Iftekhar Enayetullah and Maqsood Sinha, Waste Concern's founders, are winners of Fast Company's first Fast 50 competition, the only ones from Asia. Delegations from several countries have visited Waste Concern and started replicating the model in their own cities. Closer to home, several NGO's have already emulated the model in Bangladesh. UNICEF and Department of Public Health Engineering have started to do the same in 14 municipalities throughout the country.

In the end, all it takes is a little initiative, a little creativity, and a little concern for one's environment. Let's hope we see more of it in the future.

For more information on Waste Concern, visit their website at www.wasteconcern.org

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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