Published: Saturday 15 April 2000

A problem of waste

It is shocking that even a developed country like Japan has exported garbage and hazardous waste ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 18; February 15). Obviously the erring company found it convenient and inexpensive to ship the hospital waste, with whatever consignment, than to render it safe for disposal.

Until now, a proper strategy for the safe disposal of hospital waste has not been found -- both in the developing as well as in the developed world. Recent studies in the us indicate that around 70 per cent of the country's incinerators are not functioning properly. Every disposal system has certain limitations and health care authorities shy away from installing proper disposal equipment or undertaking proper maintenance.

In India, the effort to conceptualise a common strategy appears to be confused at present. Studies clearly indicate that 30 per cent of people handling hazardous waste suffer from 'stick injuries'. Legislation alone cannot improve the situation. What is required is to conceptualise a strategic plan and implement it at the grassroot level. Experts must be called in to advise the course of action or offer possible solutions to health care facilities. Today health care facilities are laying down a system based on only one option, little realising that a single option approach is not likely to succeed due to its own limitations, as in the case of incinerators, microwaves, autoclaves and hydroclaves.

A quantitative and qualitative analysis of waste generation must be conducted before any strategic approach to lay down a safe disposal system is adopted at any health care facility. A strategic approach to map the urban localities to identify health care facilities will be required to determine installation of a common or area facility and the routing of the waste. Debate and discussions will be required on topics like universal protection to 'high risk groups' and protective gear or clothing for waste-handlers.

The right to life is a fundamental right and 'healthy living' is an inalienable part of life. The generation of waste is in direct proportion to the growing population, whereas the cleansing apparatus of the ecosystem is limited. Any activity, which pitches the 'unlimited' against the 'limited', may result in imbalances, death and destruction. If that happens, urban areas all around the world will soon become 'ghost towns'....

Community initiatives

This refers to your cover story 'Community Forest Management, The Nepalese Experience' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 19; February 29). For the past 15 years, I have been a frequent visitor to Nepal. With notable exceptions, the green cover is being pushed up the hills due to the relentless pressure from population, livestock, more areas coming under agriculture and exploitation of forests by villagers. Most of the forests near villages have almost disappeared.

It is heartening that the community forest management project is making steady progress in Nepal. While the legitimate needs of the villagers for minor produce like fodder, fruits and roots can be accessed by the villagers managing the community forests, the commercial aspect of selling grass, bamboo and timber can result in overexploitation of the forests. Nepal has established a few national parks which are designed to protect the forests and wildlife. Villagers in Nepal depend on firewood to meet their domestic energy needs and this has put additional pressure on the neighbourhood forests. In places like the Annapurna Sanctuary, all the lodges are required to use only lpg or kerosene and use of firewood is banned. A few non-governmental organisations ( ngo s) are working on introducing improved chulas (stoves) and better insulation of dwelling houses to reduce the energy losses and thus helping to conserve fuel. The use of biogas and solar heaters have not made much headway in the rural areas.

Social forestry in India should be encouraged so that the villagers do not stray into government-owned reserve forests. The timber mafia must also be kept under constant check. India must learn from the Nepalese experience. We have a long way to go in greening our country through community-based forestry programmes and protecting the reserve forests....

A clarification

The story 'Baalu deaf to cites ' ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 19; February 29) states that a high-level United Nations ( un ) team representing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species ( cites ) could not meet the minister for environment and forests, T R Baalu, despite seeking an appointment with him before arriving in New Delhi.

The report is factually incorrect as no request was received from the un team by the minister's office before the arrival of the team in New Delhi. In fact, the team sought an appointment with the minister only on the afternoon of January 27. The request was not granted as the minister was busy with prior engagements. This fact is also borne out from the itinerary of the un team in India. The team arrived in New Delhi late evening on January 22. The next day, the team left for Panna National Park to apprise themselves of the situation and returned to New Delhi on the evening of January 26. The following day, the team had a long and useful discussion on wildlife conservation with the secretary, ministry of environment and forests, whereas the minister attended the special session of Parliament. In the afternoon, the minister met a delegation led by Manohar Joshi, the minister of heavy industries. Baalu also chaired a meeting on joint forest management as well as attended to various engagements fixed much earlier....

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