Call for evolving system to handle 1,100 tonnes of medical waste

There is no separate handling along modern lines of around 1,100 tonnes of garbage generated by hospitals in Karachi on a daily basis as haphazard disposal of medical waste continues to pose a serious public health risk.

This was stated by the dean of architecture and management sciences at the NED University of Engineering & Technology, Prof Dr Noman Ahmed, in his keynote address at the National Waste Management Conference organised by the National Forum for Environment and Health (NFEH) at a hotel.

Dr Ahmed said municipal workers and scavengers in Karachi are prone to deadly infectious diseases as they handle hospital waste on a daily basis without any safety precautions, much like the casual way in which municipal garbage is handled in the city.

He lamented that there is no check at all to stop scavengers from trying to extract useful and recyclable material from hospital trash, saying that this practice should come to an end to safeguard public health. He also pointed out that hospital waste is quite often mixed with regular municipal trash generated by the city instead of its disposal in a safe manner.

The senior faculty member, who is involved in different studies on waste management practices, emphasised that hospital waste should be properly segregated before its disposal on a scientific basis.

He said the government should provide maximum resources and support for developing an efficient system of hospital waste disposal because unsafe practices in this regard gravely compromised public health during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Ahmed said that barring a few big private hospitals in Karachi, other healthcare facilities do not have any specialised system to handle their waste because their respective administrations want to perform this essential task with minimal spending.

Zubair Ahmed Channa, managing director of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB), told the audience that a very haphazard system was in place before the SSWMB came into existence in 2014 for the disposal of 11,000 tonnes of municipal waste generated by the city on a daily basis.

Channa said private contractors and scavengers collecting waste from different neighbourhoods before the SSWMB’s establishment did not ensure that the trash they collected must ultimately reach the city’s two proper landfill sites, so the garbage was instead thrown at various dumping points near residential localities.

He said that before the SSWMB put in place its proper waste collection system, different agencies in the city, including cantonments, also did not ensure that the waste they collected must reach the two landfill sites for proper disposal. He added that the SSWMB ensures that up to 9,000 tonnes of waste generated by Karachi on a daily basis reaches the landfill sites, while just a year ago, only 3,000 tonnes of garbage was reaching these sites for safe disposal.

Channa said he has been facing immense difficulties to persuade the residents of a number of neighbourhoods and office-bearers of various industrial estates in the city not to depend on irregular private contractors for waste collection any more, but instead, they should fully rely on the SSWMB for this essential service.

He said that owing to improper handling and disposal of trash in Karachi, it is difficult to consume municipal waste for useful purposes like waste-to-energy and recycling projects. Wasif Ijlal, CEO of TransKarachi, said the Red Line bus rapid transit service project being built in Karachi from the Malir Halt to Numaish will generate minimal carbon emissions because it will operate on biogas that will be generated by using dung available in the city’s Bhains (Cattle) Colony.

Ijlal said Red Line will become operational in the next three years and resolve the issue of safe disposal of dung produced in Bhains Colony that is otherwise unsafely disposed of into the sea. He said the use of biogas for Red Line will minimise its fuel cost and it will become the first bus service in Pakistan that will require no subsidy from the government for its operation.

NFEH President Naeem Qureshi said his non-governmental organisation hosted the conference to find a lasting solution to the municipal and hazardous waste generated in the city so that the health of its citizens can be protected.

Sindh Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah assured the audience that in the next few weeks, the SSWMB’s proper waste collection system will be deployed in all Karachi districts for daily collection and disposal of garbage. Shah said that in the next phase, the SSWMB will introduce its waste disposal system in other major cities of the province after resolving the trash issue in the city.

He said the government is committed to making Karachi clean and green, and a fully developed city, for which purpose its road and civic infrastructure will be rebuilt and overhauled as soon as the monsoon rains end.

Published in The News 18 August 2022

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