Wed. Dec 2nd, 2020

The other Hunza

By Zulfiqar Ali Chaboi

Hunza is a valley situated in the heart of the Karakorum mountain range. Hunza valley is best known for its serene landscapes and snowcapped high mountains surrounding it. When it comes to infrastructure, central Hunza is a struggling and slowly urbanizing town. Roads, buildings and sewerage systems are being built. Markets are expanding. And so is the volume of the garbage being produced. Hunza still lacks a municipal committee to look after cleanliness situation in the town areas. Currently the matter is principally under the office of Deputy Commissioner of the newly formed Hunza District.

Last year, the district commissioner had decided to create a special garbage dumping area (a kachra kundi). The location selected for this purpose was old powerhouse land situated on the bank of Hunza River in Hassanabad village. Claims were made by the then district administration that this was a temporary allotment, and that they will import an Incinerator from Germany within a year. The responsibility of transporting and dumping garbage was given to the Hunza Environmental Committee (An Initiative by KADO).

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The dumping of garbage is under way since then and the employees of KADO are making two trips with tractor full of garbage every day. Garbage is collected from markets, hotels, restaurants, shops and households located in central Hunza, including Karimabad, Hyderabad, Ganish, Garelt and Aliabad. The garbage is then dumped in the allocated area at the bank of Hunza River. This garbage is then put on fire, which creates a highly hazardous smoke. The smoke is due to under combustion of garbage which includes mostly polythene bags, organic wastes from hotels/restaurants and discarded household items made of plastics and metals.

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The smoke resulting from combustion of organics and inorganic waste is considered to be dangerous to health and can be fatal as well. This smoke has contaminants that causes respiratory problems in humans. It is sometime reported to contain carcinogens which are main cause of cancer. Apart from complete combustion, under combustion results in production of carbon monoxide which is one of the leading air pollutants. Incinerating organics like polythene and polyvinyl chlorides items produces smoke that contains oxides of sulfur and nitrogen. The oxides of sulfur and nitrogen are main causes of acid rain. Acid rain affects living creatures and trees. Acid rain cause skin/eye burns in humans, while trees are directly affected and it can be worse as deforestation.

This hazardous smoke is affecting people in the vicinity which includes people of Hassanabad, Murtazaabad and commuters traveling on KKH. The situation is not yet in the notice of the government or non-government organizations which advocates for environmental degradation and pollution. Upon being asked one of the employee said, “this smoke is due to under combustion. We are not provided with kerosene for proper incineration of garbage.” But Kerosene, even if provided, is not an answer to the problem at hand. There needs to be a proper treatment plan in place, as promised one year ago, and a permanent dumping place needs to be allocated.

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What now needs to be done is proper planning and execution of a waste-management plan. We can learn from developed nations. We can sort out the practices that were not fruitful in long terms that were done by developed nation while they were developing. They are in process of eliminating polythene bags, we can do it as well. Countries like Sweden are using garbage incinerators that are used to heat source in thermal powerplants. Smoke containing carbon dioxide is sequestrated using different techniques, while left over ash is used in landfills and new methods are being developed to incorporate this ash into construction industry. Though these technologies are expensive to be purchased but district government can take help from donors and agencies who have generous in past while funding for different development projects in Hunza.

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