Disaster waste mgmt policy awaits Cabinet approval

Disaster waste mgmt policy awaits Cabinet approval

- GAURAV THAPA, Kathmandu

Nov 22, 2015- Seven months after the Gorkha earthquake, large dumps of disaster waste are still lying unattended as the country has no legal provision for disaster waste management while a policy for the same is awaiting Cabinet approval.

The government’s Solid Waste Management Technical Support Centre says the April 25 earthquake has left behind 14 million tonnes of rubble in 14 worst-hit districts, hazardous waste being a large part of it. To address the issue, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has already drafted Disaster Waste Management Policy 2015 but without being endorsed by the Cabinet, the only legal framework for disaster waste management lies in limbo.

“None of existing legal provisions, including Solid Waste Management Act 2013, speaks about disaster waste management,” said Rejina Maskey Byanju, a professor of Environment Science at Tribhuvan University. According to her, a disaster waste management policy is needed to facilitate and coordinate safe and cost-effective removal, collection, recycling and disposal of debris following a disaster and to mitigate any potential threat to the health, safety, and welfare of citizens and the environment.

Across the country, the 7.8-magnitude earthquake completely destroyed more than 600,000 houses and damaged close to 300,000 others. But disaster waste comprising bricks, sand, aggregates, steel, timber, CGI sheets and aluminium pieces is lying around in earthquake-hit zones. Even in areas where debris has been collected in a place, like Tundikhel in Kathmandu, no work has been carried out to ensure its proper disposal.

Hazardous waste is a major cause for concern for quake survivors. According to Post-disaster Needs Assessment Report prepared by the government, damaged buildings in 31 earthquake-hit districts contain more than two million litres of paint. The report further states that damaged buildings contain more than 180 kilograms of lead and nearly six kilograms of mercury. The rubble also contains LPG gas, pesticides, acids and other chemicals.

If disaster waste remains neglected, it may contaminate surrounding environment resulting in adverse health effects. Experts say exposure to paint may result in problems in people’s respiratory tract, skin and digestive system. According to World Health Organisation, at high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Mercury can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys and may be fatal.

The draft of the Disaster Waste Management Policy 2015 envisions integrated disaster waste management system in Nepal ensuring environmentally sound management and proper disposal of disaster waste. The strategy is to outline roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders involved in waste management, target specific materials for reuse, recycling and material recovery, document segregation, containment, storage, collection and disposal mechanisms for each category of waste and develop accident response strategies for harmful categories.

Meanwhile, experts have highlighted that disaster waste can be converted into construction material and even energy. According to entrepreneur Anil Thaman, debris can be easily converted into interlocking bricks which can be used as primary building material. A simple set-up with a crusher to convert debris into small particles, a mixer to mix small particles, soil and binder and an interlocking machine to produce interlocking bricks can produce such building material. Using interlocking bricks can save up to 40 percent cost of building houses compared to conventional brick-and-cement houses.

Similarly, environment and energy researcher Pravakar Pradhan said polymers and organic waste can be converted into energy. He said there are technologies that can be adapted to generate oil  from plastic waste. Likewise, he said organic waste can  produce biogas, electricity and organic fertilizer with  the help of anaerobic  digesters.