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For a greener, cleaner Karachi: Organic waste can be put to better use
[March 17, 2014]

For a greener, cleaner Karachi: Organic waste can be put to better use

(Express Tribune (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ‘Brain drain’ from Pakistan is alarmingly high but it is not a complete loss for the country when expatriates conduct research in foreign universities on local issues.

It has been experienced that a number of students who have gone abroad to seek higher education are parking their PhD doctorates or dissertation work on Pakistan. One such student with her origins in Karachi is Noor Mahdi, whose dissertation, submitted recently in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an MSc in humanitarian studies at the School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, UK, looks into the topic of ‘community level organic waste management’, with a special case study on Karachi City.

The irony here is with an estimated 870 million malnourished people in the world — mostly in the developing countries — organic food waste is the largest proportion of all waste.

The research-based study by Mahdi indicates that community-level composting combined with urban agriculture, if properly managed, offers multiple benefits to both the city governments and municipalities, and the communities, such as environment friendly and financially viable utilisation of organic waste in re-use and recycling. Otherwise, they would add to the disposable waste burden of the city.

Research indicated that recycling offers the most viable management option, having the capacity of facilitating return of nutrients back to the soil, in addition to killing any harmful pathogens that may be present. In addition to composting, bio-gas production can be another resulting beneficial usage.

Mahdi’s research also focused on determining comparable merits and demerits of opting for a ‘centralised’ (city level) versus a ‘decentralised’ (community level) approach to organic waste management. In case of developing countries, her findings indicated that community-level composting has a greater potential to succeed. Other than the obvious benefits of contributing to better waste management and food production for communities, there are incentives for the creation of greater employment opportunities and entrepreneurship development. For example, preparing and selling compost.

She also highlighted the resulting potential of building community and social capital. Composting and urban farming, say, at the neighbourhood level, will bring people out of their homes where they work and interact together in a healthy activity, making such neighbourhoods more inclusive and cohesive.

The case study on Karachi indicated both a number of constraints and also viable potentials in initiating such practices. It was found that, at the municipal level, the waste management system is faced with a serious crisis in management coupled with a decline in the number of open spaces.

However, at the citizen’s level, there is considerable interest and mobilisation with a number of examples of successful initiatives. For example, the Karachi Amateur Gardeners Club, Crops n Pots and Gul Bahao. The study made use of a SWOT analysis to identify constraints in implementation and found that water shortage, extreme heat and an unregulated informal economy can be factors.

The study concludes that if effective strategies are developed to manage and overcome the identified, urban composting and agricultural practices offer a number of attractive wide-scale benefits for the city in terms of contributing to climate change mitigation, food security, building of social capital and in making Karachi city a greener and more sustainable city. Similar exciting and much researched contributions are coming from the academic level —both here and abroad by people who still care for this city. It’s now high time that our government and other possible stakeholders like the private sector wake up and take notice.

The writer is an urban planner and runs a non-profit organisation based in Karachi city focusing on urban sustainability issues. He can be reached at Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2014.

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