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J&K’s solid waste challenges need a durable solution

Ziraat Times Editorial Board

Unscientific solid waste management in both urban and rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir has assumed serious proportions. With the urban municipal and rural self governance systems getting overwhelmed by the mammoth challenge, J&K’s solid waste management issue has significant environmental and public health implications. 

As most of the solid waste gets dumped in public places, leachate from landfills have started to contaminate  surface and groundwater sources with toxic chemicals, which is posing health risks to communities dependent on these sources for drinking water. Dumping of untreated waste on land is contaminating soil with heavy metals and other chemicals, reducing soil fertility and impacting agricultural productivity. Local landfills and dumping sites would  destroy natural habitats and biodiversity, disrupting ecosystems and impacting wildlife populations. As communities often resort to open burning of waste, harmful pollutants like particulate matter, dioxins, and furans are aggravating air pollution and respiratory problems, especially in Kashmir valley region. Not just that, unscientific waste dumping has created unsightly landscapes, impacting the beauty and aesthetic value of natural areas and tourist destinations.

When it comes to health impacts, as what rising prevalance of cancers in J&K may testify, long exposure to certain chemicals present in waste, such as heavy metals, may pose additional  risks of cancer among J&K’s population. If things go unchecked, unscientific waste dumping can have negative impacts on the tourism industry of J&K, discouraging visitors and impacting the local economy.

Srinagar’s Achan dumping site is nearing its capacity, raising concerns about future waste disposal. Improper management of the site has led to air and water pollution, impacting the surrounding environment and public health.

In this grim backdrop, it is crucial to address these environmental and health concerns by implementing proper waste management practices in J&K. A number of steps are required to  protect the environment and public health in J&K.

First of all J&K needs to implement mandatory source segregation of waste at the household level with separate bins for organic and inorganic waste. There has to be a robust system to increase door-to-door collection and improve transport infrastructure to ensure efficient waste collection from all urban and rural areas. For rural areas Panchayats and other local bodies will have to come into picture here. In cities and towns, we need to optimize the functioning of existing landfills and invest in establishing new facilities for composting, waste-to-energy conversion, and other treatment options. A largescale public awareness campaign is a must too. Without mass level educational campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of proper waste disposal through community participation, state systems alone cannot tackle this problem.

In the long-term, J&K must develop a comprehensive waste management plan, addressing all aspects of waste management, including waste reduction, reuse, recycling, treatment, and disposal. It has to also encourage the use of eco-friendly products, reduce packaging, and promote reuse practices to minimize waste generation. We have to also explore and adopt innovative technologies for waste treatment and resource recovery, such as anaerobic digestion and plasma gasification.

It is also time to rope in the private sector investment in waste management infrastructure and services to improve efficiency and sustainability.

At the strategic planning level, enhancing the capacity of municipal authorities and other stakeholders involved in waste management by providing adequate training and resources should be a high priority for the government if J&K’s niche as the country’s leading tourist destination has to sustain.

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