On June 9, an agreement was reached between the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and the locals of Banchare Danda and Sisdole. It was important, though partial, step in the right direction and it was commendable on the part of the new administration now governing the capital.
The deal not only covered the issue of night transportation of garbage but also offered an array of practical solutions, a recognition of the multifold issues not only affecting but also severely damaging people’s lives in Banchare Danda and Sisdole.
From constructing better accessibility infrastructure to making the area a smell-free zone in a month to finding a scientific way to prevent leachate from getting into the local water to a commitment to carry out research on better understanding the negative impact of the landfill, the agreement included special support for local schools and agriculture.
These are all commendable decisions taken on top of a commitment to finally organize a proper waste segregation management in the valley, itself a gigantic commitment.
The Balen Shah-Sunita Dangol administration in Kathmandu is doing the right thing, pragmatically thinking about solving the most pressing issues while also addressing the most daunting ones that will require years and years of hard work.
Let’s put our feet in the shoes of locals of Banchare Danda and Sisdole. What would we demand? How would we respond to decades of neglect and deprivation?
But just last week, the locals vandalized the vehicles carrying the garbage to the landfill site, while the whole of Kathmandu is littered with garbage raising the real risks of the spread of cholera and other diseases. Once again we are back to square one.
While there should not be any tolerance for violence and use of force, instead we should have plenty of tolerance and patience with the frustrations and exasperation of those fellow citizens living in the Banchare Danda and Sisdole communities.
Many local households living there have been officially categorized as “highly affected” as many have been suffering from serious health conditions as a consequence of the unmanaged garbage piling up there day after day throughout all these years.
There are official records showing that an unusually high number of people there have been dying of cancer on top of other ailments like respiratory problems, diarrhea and other health conditions. It is a real emergency that requires immediate interventions and, at the same time, long-term solutions.
Mayor Shah and Deputy Mayor Dangol are right to focus on doable, pragmatic steps while working out a broader, more ambitious plan backed up by evidence.
The problem is that the frustration or better the desperation experienced by local citizens in Banchare Danda and Sisdole is so high that the short-term initiatives taken by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City do not go nearly close to addressing their concerns.
Let’s put our feet in their shoes and in their place. What would we demand or how would we respond to decades of neglect and deprivation?
The fact that Mayor Shah had met Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba at the start of his mandate was perhaps just symbolic but could also be the beginning of pragmatic cooperation between the federal government and Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
The announcement that Prime Minister Deuba was ready to support the Kathmandu administration to solve the garbage crisis could be an opportunity to be seized on.
For example, a High-Level Inter-Ministerial Working Group engaging the Kathmandu Metropolitan City could be set up with the task, with both more impactful short-term decisions and more game-changing long-term solutions, to turn the crisis into something the entire nation would be proud of.
Let’s remind ourselves that what may seem like a garbage problem for millions of citizens of the Valley is a life or death crisis for the people of Banchare Danda and Sisdole. It is not just a garbage crisis but a human development crisis and an existential eco-system crisis at the same time.
This High-Level Working Group that could be jointly presided by the PM and the Mayor with also the participation of the Bagmati Provincial Government, should also better involve the locals of Banchare Danda and Sisdole on a consistent basis.
While this high-level set up should have the authority to take quick actions, a forum of citizens and local authorities should also be created, bringing together elected officials and members of the civil society, especially the youths from Banchare Danda and Sisdole and different wards of which Kathmandu is made of.
Citizens from all over the Valley need to better understand what their fellow citizens from Banchare Danda and Sisdole are going through and such a forum could also work as a sort of monitoring platform to revise the plans being decided by the High Level Working Group.
There is no doubt that we need a big vision, an audacious plan that perhaps could see in five years the entire areas of Banchare Danda and Sisdole becoming global best practices in eco-sustainability, transforming a huge problem into an example of urban-rural sustainability.
It would be a big plan, turning the area into a natural park where the most sustainable and efficient biomass generator system would operate together with the most advanced plastic converting platform.
It would cost a lot of money but it could also become the most amazing and exciting National Pride Project that the country has ever seen. Nepal could also count on the international community to support the transformation of this ambitious vision into a reality.
Yet we need quick actions and much bolder and more transformative actions than what was envisioned in the June agreement.
For example, could the entire area be declared a “health emergency” zone? Could the citizens get free priority treatment in the best hospitals in the Valley of Kathmandu?
Would the Ministry of Health and Population ensure that the best doctors available at Bir Hospital, Teaching Hospital, Patan Hospital, and Civil Service Hospital could prioritize the locals of Banchare Danda and Sisdole?
I am not talking about only those suffering from serious ailments but everyone living there should have some sort of special right to access the best medical health care for free.
What about bringing in the Nepal Army engineers for a fast-track road that would finally easily connect the localities with the capital and beyond?
What about providing them with free transportation between their localities and the capitals?
In the field of education, all the children living there should receive not only scholarships for attending local schools but also scholarships for higher studies in the valley.
What about upgrading in massive way local schools there and turning them into model schools using the most innovative curricula in terms of education for sustainable development, climate action, and sustainability?
I could even imagine the establishment of an international research center entirely focused on sustainable recycling and consumption.
If you want to call these ideas “compensations” or even better if you want to call them for what they rightly are, that means“reparations” for what the locals in Banchare Danda and Sisdole have been going through, and that would be fine with me.
What we need to realize is that people like me and you should be grateful for the sacrifices the folks in Banchare Danda and Sisdole have been making.
In one form or another, it is payback time.
Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE. Views are personal.