Nepal still mixing garbage with politics

Kathmandu’s chronic garbage problem is magnified by politicians trying to score brownie points


A cartoon  by Uttam Nepal in the Rajdhani daily this week sums up Nepal’s dirty politics. The top trio of the governing coalition, Nepali Congress Prime Minister Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoists and the Unified Socialist Madhav Kumar Nepal are standing on top of a pile of garbage, and taunting Kathmandu Mayor Balen Shah: “You have failed to lift the trash.”

On 8 August, 14 garbage disposal trucks were vandalised by local protesters as they headed to the new landfill site at Banchare Danda, setting back Mayor Shah’s attempt to clear the city of growing mountains of waste.

The mayor, who swept local elections in May after defeating candidates from the main parties, did not mince his words on a Twitter video, and directly blamed Maoist leader Dahal for trying to score brownie points: ‘What moral high ground do you have to talk about development … when you back those who have kept the Kakani road in the state it is in?’

Read also: Waste to value with biogas in Nepal, Sushmita Dulal

श्रीमान प्रचण्डज्यु ! उपत्यकाको फोहोर लैजान प्रयोग गरिने ककनीको बाटो बिगत ८ बर्ष देखि यस्तो हालतमा बनाउने मान्छेको घरमै अङ्गरक्षक जस्तो बसेर कुन नैतिकताले भन्नु म देश बनाउँदै छु भनेर ।

— Balen Shah (@ShahBalen) August 16, 2022

His rebuke came after local leaders of the Nepali Congress, Maoist and Unified Socialist backed the protesters via a joint statement. Fully-loaded garbage disposal trucks were making their first trips to Banchare after the dirt road was fixed following heavy monsoon rains when they were attacked by local cadre of the three parties of the governing coalition.

Finally on Wednesday, a meeting of the CDOs of Kathmandu, Dhading and Nuwakot reached a four-point agreement with locals to allow the trash trucks in return for safe transport of the garbage. But there have been agreements before, and this one too could be broken.

Politicians allowing garbage to pile up on the streets of the capital to expose the ‘incompetence’ of rivals is nothing new. With federal elections around the corner, and worried about the popularity of independent candidates like Mayor Balen, mainstream parties are resorting to the same tricks.

Read also: More bullshit, Sonia Awale

Kathmandu Valley generates 1,200 tonnes of waste daily, most of which is biodegradable and can be turned into valuable compost or gasified. Plastic, glass and metal can be recycled to reduce the volume being dumped at landfill sites.

Mayor Balen is trying to address this, but first he needs to clear the streets of accumulated trash by transporting it to the new landfill site at Banchare, 27km west of Kathmandu.

“The solid waste system we have is just collecting and dumping, not processing and management,” explains environmentalist Shilshila Acharya. “We are landfill-dependent, which means that if roads are blocked by rains or politics, it affects waste collection in Kathmandu.”

Read also: Refuse, recycle, reuse, repurpose plastic, Aria Shree Parasai

Mayor Balen Shah ran for office in April when trash was once more piling up on the streets. The independent candidate made the capital’s garbage disposal his primary election agenda, visiting landfill sites in Nuwakot to convince locals.

In an interview with RSS in May, the newly-elected mayor said waste management was his top priority, outlining plans for waste segregation.

“There are not enough people who have the understanding about the waste ecosystem across all three levels of government,” says Acharya, who is with Avni Ventures.

She adds, “Not enough people are committed to solving the problem also because of the unwillingness to change a system that benefits them so they have resorted to a political blame game. ”

Read also: No smoke without fire in Kathmandu, Tom Robertson

There have been 174 agreements between local residents and Kathmandu municipality and the central government. In June, former Urban Development Minister Ram Kumari Jhakri of the Unified Socialists blamed the KMC for the problem, accusing officials of colluding with locals at the dumping site.

Jhakri resigned in July following a cabinet reshuffle, and her successor Metmani Chaudhary has vowed this week to crack down on “syndicates and gangs obstructing waste management”.

Mayor Balen wrote on Facebook: ‘Our state mechanism envisions coordination between all levels of government, but one level of government is trying to ensure the failure of another. Let us not play dirty politics.’

Shilshila Acharya thinks fatalism has set in because everyone thinks this is an intractable problem. She adds: “Solid waste can be managed if we do things right. If there is political will we can solve the problem in the next five years."

Read also: Everest fights back, Alton C Byers

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