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The nightmare of the garbage mountain as tall as an 18-story building in India

India’s “mountains of garbage” will soon be replaced by waste treatment plants, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised earlier this month. Saumya Roy * writes for the BBC about the oldest of them all, as tall as an 18-story building, located in the western coastal city of Mumbai.

Every morning Farha Shaikh stands atop a century-old mountain of waste in Mumbai, waiting for the garbage trucks to come up.

This 19-year-old has been rummaging through this suburb of Deonar landfill for as long as she can remember.

He typically recovers plastic, glass and wire bottles from viscous waste, which he then sells in the city’s thriving waste markets.

But above all Look for broken cell phones.

Every few weeks Farha finds a “dead” cell phone in the trash and with her meager savings repairs it.

Once it comes to life, he spends his afternoons watching movies, playing video games, texting, and calling his friends.

When days or weeks later the device stops working again, Farha’s connection to the outside world fades.

Then he goes back to the long days of rummaging through the trash, to get bottles to sell and cell phones to restore.

Denial

Saumya roy

More than 16 million tons of waste they form the Deonar garbage mountain, eight of them spread over an area of ​​121 hectares.

The waste is piled up to a height of 36.5 meters.

You can see the sea from the top and shantytowns have been built on the solid heaps of rubbish.

Harmful and polluting gases

Decomposing waste releases harmful gases such as methane, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide.

And in 2016 it was the scene of a fire that burned for months and filled much of Mumbai with smoke.

According to a study that India’s pollution regulator carried out in 2011, other similar fires contributed 11% of the particulate matter that floods the air of Mumbai, one of its main causes of pollution.

The surrounding neighbors have been fighting in court for 26 years, demanding closure from the Deonar landfill.

But that mountain of garbage is no exception in the country. An investigation carried out in 2020 by the Center for Science and the Environment (CSE), a think tank An independent New Delhi-based company identified 3,159 such mountains across India containing 800 million tonnes of debris.

These have for years been a headache for officials and politicians.

On October 1, Modi announced a nearly $ 13 billion “national cleanup program” that will include the installation of a series of sewage treatment plants to gradually replace outdoor garbage dumps like Deonar’s.

But experts are skeptical.

“While it has been achieved in smaller cities, it is difficult to provide a solution for mountains of waste on this scale,” says Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, deputy director of programs at CSE.

“It is recognized that it is a problem, but we have accepted that if we are going to live in big cities like Bombay or New Delhi these mountains of garbage are going to be there,” says Dharmesh Shah, country coordinator of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. , a coalition of groups advocating for waste reduction.

Denial

Reuters
The mountain of garbage caught fire[o en marzo de 2016.

Desde el año 2000, India ha aprobado regulaciones que obligan a los municipios a que procesen los desechos.

Pero la mayorĂ­a de los estados informan de un cumplimiento solo parcial y no hay suficientes plantas de tratamiento de desechos.

Bombay, la capital comercial y del entretenimiento de la India y hogar de unos 20 millones de personas, tiene una sola planta de este tipo.

Ahora hay planes para instalar una planta que convierta los residuos en energĂ­a en Deonar.

Modi dijo que espera que el plan cree nuevos empleos ecolĂłgicos. Pero esto preocupa a los recolectores como Farha que llevan toda la vida dedicados a ello.

Aunque desde el incendio de 2016 acceder a la montaña de basura de Deonar se ha vuelto más difícil.

El municipio incrementó la seguridad para evitar que los recolectores entren y provoquen incendios: las llamas derriten la basura más liviana, quedando con ello expuesto el metal que se vende a precios altos.

Los recolectores que logran colarse a menudo son golpeados, detenidos y expulsados, aunque algunos sobornan a los guardias o acceden al vertedero antes del amanecer, cuando comienzan las patrullas de seguridad.

Pero ese no es el Ăşnico motivo por el que los recolectores de basura de Deonar han visto su modo de vida. Y es que ahora gran parte de la separaciĂłn de residuos se hace en la ciudad.

Como consecuencia, Farha no tiene teléfono desde hace meses. Y se ve obligada a sobornar a los guardias con al menos 50 rupias (US$0,67) todos los días para entrar y trabajar en los terrenos de Deonar.

Para recuperar esto, incluso pensó en buscar entre la basura que comenzó a llegar desde las salas del hospital en las que se atendía a los pacientes de covid-19 el año pasado.

Pero su familia le pidió que no recogiera esos desechos “dañinos”.

Así que ahora se queda cerca, observando a los recolectores que usan equipo de protección para seguir recogiendo plástico bajo la lluvia para revender.

La ciudad estaba enviando basura nueva y, como lo habían hecho durante años, las montañas tenían que acomodarla y los recolectores tenían que recolectarla y revenderla.

“El hambre nos matará si no nos mata la enfermedad”, dice Farha.

*Saumya Roy es una periodista con sede en Bombay y autora del libro Mountain Tales: Love and Loss in the Municipality of Castaway Belonging (Profile Books / Hachette India).


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