Growing urbanisation and changes in the pattern of life, give rise to generation of increasing quantities of wastes and it’s now becoming another threat to our already degraded environment. However, in recent years, waste-to-energy technologies have been developed to produce clean energy through the combustion of municipal solid waste in specially designed power plants equipped with the most modern pollution control equipment to clean emissions. Yet, solid waste management practices differ for developed and developing nations. In developing countries like Pakistan, institutions charged with the responsibility to make decisions on solid waste management, operate in the enormous information, policy and strategy vacuum and lack therefore the ability to address this looming environmental disaster.
The perfect ‘case study’ of information gap in selection of appropriate methodology to dispose municipal waste exhibited by the apex civic authority of Pakistan is when the capital development authority has finally decided to solve the ever-increasing volume of municipal waste by landfill in groundwater recharge area. While in developed countries, landfills are now bracketed as ‘obsolete’ and ‘mines of the future’ after observing several problems like pollution and contamination of groundwater by leachate and residual soil contamination after landfill closure and simple nuisance problems. This is the very reason why in the United States sanitary landfill techniques has steadily decreased from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,767 in 2002. Extensively focusing on turning waste to energy, municipal authorities in USA have realised the contribution of waste to an increasing electricity shortage.
Today in America, 2500 MW are solely generated by the waste-to-energy plants. Many other countries in the world, Sweden, Japan included, have applied this technology since the last 20 years. In the sub continent, India installed three projects to produce electricity from waste with a total capacity of 17.6 MW. Although these ‘made in India’ power plants are generating electricity by direct incineration, causing pollution and must be upgraded by sophisticated monitoring systems to check pollution. These examples are enough to establish that CDA’s ignorance of modern technologies is surely not simply a lack of ‘access to information’, but questions the professional capabilities of the planners within its corridors.
The site selected for the landfill project is at Kuri, an ancient city of Potwar and its aerial distance is hardly five kilometres from sector G-5, known as the nucleus of Islamabad. Though, in July 2003, the same site was considered for a landfill project but UNDP out rightly rejected and warned that environmental cost would be considerable, besides air pollution, contamination of groundwater if Kuri was selected as a landfill project. JICA in 1988 also compiled a detail investigation report, which established that the area is the recharge zone of the aquifer catering for more than 50 per cent of the twin cities’ drinking demand. Based on these serious environmental constraints, as its location is up a slope and within the flood plain of Gumrah River, the recharge-basin of the twin cities aquifer, the site was rejected. Recent floods substantiated the finding of all the reports, as the site is definitely within the flood plains of the Gumrah River and would need to be protected on a priority basis, especially as water shortages is now a permanent problem of the twin cities.
Whoever selected and approved the site for the ‘disaster of the future’, showed ignorance of the above reports and absolute ignorance of the adverse environmental impacts this project would create. Is this ignorance simply unawareness of the planners or is it complete apathy towards anything old, which rejects that Kuri is recorded as an ancient city of the Potowar Region. As CDA is constantly focusing on developing tourist attractions, why not preserve this historical area? Aware of the unprofessional management at CDA’s varied directorates one anticipates leachates from the landfills, polluting the amazingly still clean groundwater table, while the wind will carry waves of leaking gases towards the G-5 Sector, farther adding to the prevalent health hazards of the capital.
‘Access to clean water’ has been given the ‘top priority’ flag by the president. Selecting a site along the Gumrah River, known to recharge the groundwater along its winding course through Chak Shehzad and Kanna shows the warped priorities of the planning commission that approves projects, the ministry of interior responsible for CDA affairs and the CDA itself. Had CDA only followed the minutest details provided in the Federal Capital Commission Reports of 1960 by the earlier planners of the capital city, Islamabad today would have been a model for the rest of Pakistan.
The CDA ignored the most recent seismic zoning report of the region too. According to EPA US regulations, duly adopted by Pakistan’s EPA, there should be no significant seismic risk within identified landfill sites. Kuri is within a highly sensitive earthquake zone, according to new seismic zoning maps prepared after the earthquake 2005. An earthquake having a magnitude of 4.2 was recorded on July 7, 1989 and its epicentre was at a distance of 10 kilometres from Kuri.
Had the spread of this infectious disease the ‘vacuum of information’ been contained in time, CDA would surely have been able to diagnose that the estimated cost of two billion rupees for the landfill site, would have sufficed for setting up an ‘energy-to-waste’ plant in the city. With load-shedding a permanent crisis in Pakistan, adding some extra megawatts through waste-to-energy could have solved many ills in the rapidly growing energy needs.
A vacuum of information has not allowed the CDA to communicate either with the alternate energy development board, established by the federal government in 2003. This board was given the mandate to solve the energy crisis that is facing this country through renewable technologies. Although advertisements in the printed media asked for feasibility studies of ‘waste-to-energy’ units for ten cities of the country, the twin cities were ignored. Had mutual interactions been part of the government systems, the funds available to the CDA for the ill-fated sanitary landfill, and the technical know-how of alternate energy development board (AEDB), Islamabad could have prided itself of being the first ever waste-to-energy unit in the country today.
The decision to construct a landfill project at extremely sensitive areas need not only to be reviewed but also need to empower the AEDB to generate electricity from waste to cope with the energy demand in the lines of international environmental commitments avoiding violation of the Kyoto Protocol and Stockholm Convention. Now decision-makers have to choose whether to allow the CDA to go ahead with the landfill project, to dump waste for adding more pollution and contamination of groundwater or to allow production of environment friendly energy.