Saturday, June 22, 2024

In hot water

The recent surfacing of accumulated solid wastes, most ly plastic items and goods, at the Doyang Dam in Wokha should be deeply embarrassing for the people of the State as well as the politicians and the administrators. The nature of blame for this wholesale ignominy is twofold: civic and administrative. A red-faced Nagaland Government, in the immediate aftermath of the Doyang embarrassment, has “emphasised the urgency to examine and undertake specific prevention and mitigation measures to clear the debris and solid waste collected in the upstream of the Doyang riverbed”. Per news reports, the Chief Secretary has tasked the State Departments to conjure medium or long term measures “to ensure that this kind of deposits do not take place”. That cannot be an easy task. However, the difficulty of the task in hand doesn’t mean it cannot and should not be done. The modern world runs and thrives on convenience. One of the results of this convenience is that our celebratory occasions and events often come wrapped in disposable plastic ~ leaving behind a trail of environmental repercussions. Even in everyday life and everyday activities, plastic is very much an integral part of our functioning. This in turn has left us grappling with a monumental challenge: an ever-expanding pile of waste that has now reached unsustainable levels. This problem is not Nagaland’s alone; it’s felt worldwide. The consequences of inadequate waste management are far-reaching, affecting not only the environment but also the economy, society, public health and food systems. The scariest thing about the Doyang episode is that it’s only the precursor, if we do not mend. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, global plastic waste is expected to nearly triple by 2060, a stark reminder of the urgent need for action. In India, where plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past few decades, the annual generation of plastic waste stands at a staggering 9.4 million metric tonnes. Alarmingly, only half of this waste is recycled through a mix of formal and informal networks, leaving the other half unaccounted for. The unmanaged waste often ends up in landfills, streams or is incinerated, leading to ecological degradation, health risks for informal workers and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Household-level consumption also plays a significant role in the overall waste generated, warranting focused attention. While policies exist at national, sub-national and regional levels, they suffer from ineffective implementation ~ Nagaland represents an apt example. Nagaland Government’s standard approach to any emerging emergencies is purely reactionary in nature, as opposed to precautionary. Again, Doyang has shown that clearly. Worldwide, administrations have chosen collaborative efforts to tackle the problem. No single entity can tackle this monumental task in isolation. In such a scenario, it augurs well for the policy makers to base their decisions on data and facts. A strategic and well-planned framework will enable each participant to leverage their strengths and align their competencies towards the common goal of efficient waste management. Also in a society where waste often ends up littering streets, roadsides and our riversides, a cultural shift is long overdue. This is where our civic responsibilities are put to test. And our track records are proof of how miserably we have failed. Such honest appraisals of ourselves are necessary for rewriting the narrative. As individuals, we share a collective responsibility to contribute to a cleaner environment. Government agencies ought to make strides but our participation is pivotal to achieving lasting change. Effective waste management isn’t just about eliminating harm; it’s about creating value too. As our urban centres continue to experience rapid growth and expansion, the importance of implementing a robust waste management system cannot be overstated. It calls for robust measures from the Nagaland Government to ensure sustainable handling and disposal of waste. It calls for investment in education and awareness campaigns, through which the citizens can be encouraged to adopt responsible waste disposal habits. A well-designed strategy, encompassing all stakeholders, is indispensable to combat this challenge. For now, what rankles most is the absence of even a semblance of effective policy on waste segregation, collection, recycling and disposal.