AT PLACES where urbanization is getting rapidly underway and in the absence or near absence of any urban planning, myriad problems emerge that cumulatively affect human health together with taking a great toll on the overall environment. These long unattended challenges caused thus are always hard to be tackled at a belated stage with one go id est by ordinary means, in a scientific manner. In such a pathetic landscape, the increasing waste being produced by the rising population comes to the center stage as chief concern viewed in terms of public health. A prudent planning needs to be carried out to come to grips with these challenges effectively and scientifically for a salubrious change to happen. It is to be seen that the pristine glorious state of Gilgit - the provincial metropolis of Gilgit-Baltistan - once a tranquil habitat of simple farming communities until 1960s - was marred by an unplanned handling of the affairs blighting it as it was allowed to sprawl uncheckably from 1970s onward. In the decade that followed, a population boom was witnessed as a result of an indiscriminate urbanization gathering momentum towards the turn of previous century dating from 1970s onward when the administrative expansion resulting from the reforms introduced by the federal government in early seventies. There was a mushroom growth of buildings that came about in an absolute state of unpreparedness to face the these changes effectively. This haphazard activity soon transformed this township into a bustling city and regional commercial hub with a number of governmental and nongovernmental buildings emerging there and then, to cater to the new requirements as if on a war footing but in an unplanned way. During the course, the locality soon bade farewell to its former pristine glorious environment resulting into dismantling of its erstwhile irrigation system and badly obliterating all the sub-channels carrying pure drinking and irrigation water to all the Mohellahs during the course. It is mentionable that until 1970s, the local population earlier used to freely drink the pure potable water of the ‘dalejas’ but the changes overtime, threatened the old system with rampant constructions. At long last, a grandiose of scheme of water supply network while the present inadequate drainage mechanism followed by a waste management system was implemented by the previous government of Gilgit-Baltistan. The latter id est waste management system thus introduced for the first time, is functional since then and its services are extended to the adjoining areas like Danyore – a sprawling township and the sub-divisional headquarter. It has to be unequivocally acknowledged that the system in place has somewhat assuaged the situation in the context of waste dispoal while the drainage spadework significantly minimized the water-logging in and around the 'Dade Juvari Park' - considerably draining the superfluous subsoil water. But, nevertheless, much more still needs be done to improve upon the existing system particularly in regard to the mechanism associated with final disposal of the solid waste and popularizing scientific disposal by way of prior incineration before the city waste finds way to landfills. For instance, they dump the solid waste in the case of Danyore, on the vacant land (barren land) lay abutting on the newly built girls college, Sultanabad near Al-Asr Colony Jutal which otherwise must be disposed of at safe land fills. One can see plastic shopping bags littered at this place which mostly remain afloat when slightest wind blows. Moreover, the location of the site too, is such that on rainy days, it is prone to receive ferocious hilltorrent from above the perpendicular mountain threatening to sweep away the garbage dumps straight towards the Hunza River flowing below only to have horrific effects downstream populations. It is not understood why at all such a lackadaisical approach is being adopted by the authorities and why they do not do it at landfills away from population. There is therefore, need of disposal of the municipal waste material in a scientific manner for, incinerating system needs must be popularized. There must remain operational such an incinerating system at the hospitals (public as well as private) for scientific disposal. Private health practitioners too, have ensure safe and scientific disposal of the waste of their units themselves or to seek its incineration at the nearest facility to be offered at government hospitals. These issues underline generally remaining wary over and cognizant of any litter along the banks of all water courses all across the region by crating general awareness among the people. This is because any remissness in this context may be detrimental to public health both at micro and macro levels, if the litter finds its way into the water courses in the face of winds and vagaries.
In the foreground is Shilmish habitat across Hunza river. To its south is yet another waste material dump with plastic bags torched causing air-pollution , near the building of the Polytechnic Institute. Photo by: Zahra Kazmee
Viewed in retrospect, these are all an outcome of lack of urban planning which, by definition is an activity with strong distributive overtones; its purpose is to influence the distribution of people and economic activities across the urban landscape. Efficacy and responsiveness of such a key state institution in these fast changing times cannot be overemphasized. This is because urban planners and architects get primarily tasked with the crucial job of allocating urban spaces scientifically, for purposes of socioeconomic activities through careful land uses in order to meet the present as well as future needs.
Reverting again to Gilgit - the provincial metropolis of Gilgit-Baltistan, it may be said that it has long history of its facing innumerable civic problems that stemmed from an indiscriminate urbanization from 1970s onward which straightaway became ascribable to a lack of planning and the absence of a Master Plan put in place to guide the city’s sprawl on scientific lines as already discussed elsewhere in detail. This resulted into the worsening state of the city’s drainage, sewerage, waste management besides compounding intra-city transport system. This resulting to situations threatening public health as civic amenities came under pressure of the growing population and increased commercial and economic activity with its choked road infrastructure calling for handling of the plethoric problems - modern sewerage,/drainage system, enhancing the purity of piped water supply network, improving upon the shabby intra-city transport management and scientific disposal of the waste being produced in the city and in immediate neighborhoods. As regards water supply, a recent report by the federal ministry of science makes startling revelations when it placed Gilgit-Baltistan amongst those areas of the country which have unsafe potable water for human consumption.
It is to be reiterated that Gilgit, which had no special need for a modern sewerage system until the sixties being a tranquil habitat of a simple farming society, has been transformed into a sprawling city and commercial hub with innumerable government and non-government offices lying clustered here. A burgeoning population in the absence of a proper drainage and sewerage system remaining in place, wrought havoc with the erstwhile irrigation as well as drinking water supply system. The the two grand arterial canals (dalejas) built during Dade Juvari era hitherto supplying potable as well as irrigation water to the town literally got converted into gutters. This pathetic landscape led to sharp rise in gastrointestinal diseases among users of these water channels overtime until laying of the present water supply network. But nonetheless, whenever there were heavy rainfalls, these primitive canals laden with clogged sewerage material were unable to carry away the city’s refuse leading to an infernal state especially in the areas from Bazaar area, Majinee Mohellah, Kashrote, Nagaral, Kulchinote, Haiderpura while Barmas, Khorro, Naikoi, Jutial and Khomar lying relatively at height are rather safe.
The perennial waterlogging problem encountered by the dwellers of the central city further makes things worse with the dwellers of the localities like Kashrote, Majini Mohallah and the bazaar area being hit hard. The implementation of the sewerage/drainage project by the previous government of Gilgit-Baltistan, has somewhat assuaged the situation but nevertheless, much more still needs be done to improve upon the system put in place to address litany of problems.
|City Hospital Kashrote Gilgit|
It is felt generally that the overall civic facilities put in place do not meet the city's growing demand vis a vis the surge. No matter the waterlogging in the central areas mentioned earlier has come down to a level with no impact currently surfacing at the worst affected places in close contiguity to the Dade Juvari Park but much more still needs be done in this context. Still at places, one cannot dig deeper than a foot or more before striking water which means the problem needs be addressed completely. In this landscape, any torrential rains make things in the city worse. The most complex problem of all is that all houses in residential areas (Mohellas) invariably have modern flush systems whose septic tanks and eventual piped passage on the field remains vulnerable to being disrupted with the onslaught of aggressive roots of wills, mulberry and other trees encroaching upon them. The eventual leakages caused thus endanger the subsoil water by helping pollution to percolate to. Given this, it has to be reiterated that the municipal authorities need to extend unhindered services of emptying septic tanks by using the light tankered vehicles. As mentioned elsewhere, the the present lone facility of mechanized sucking out septic tanks through a tankered truck does not meet the needs of ordinary household. This can be used for commercial buildings or a cluster of government buildings. Suppose hiring of this tanker costs some right thousand, a facility to be extended by employing a smaller or light tankered vehicle catering to and sufficing the needs of a single household. It becomes imperative therefore, that an adequate number of light vehicles are got fitted with suction tankers for emptying the septic tanks which is dire need of the hour in seeing the situation that persists in central Gilgit city.
As said before, large and aggressive roots of willow and mulberry trees and at some locations those of the chinar in the case of Gilgit - pose danger to the household septic tanks and encroach upon the related pipe network. When a root encroaches on the pipes and tank, it can lead to backups or other damage in the septic system. To prevent roots from growing around the septic system, all trees have to be kept at least 100 feet away from that part of one's property. For trees with extremely aggressive roots, such as willows, make this distance even greater.
Another threat to a poorly maintained septic system is the contamination of groundwater, which can occur when water waste isn't properly treated within the tank before it reaches the outlet drain. When the groundwater becomes contaminated, it can have ill effects on nearby flora, fauna and bodies of water.
In communities affected by water contamination, illnesses such as typhoid fever, hepatitis and dysentery are common phenomena. The nitrates and phosphates in contaminated water are said lead to conditions such as blue baby syndrome, which is characterized by a newborn's reduced ability to receive oxygen in the blood. Essentially, when every one maintains the health of their septic system, they'll also be doing favors for their own health and that of their loved ones.
Service Issues of Staff
There is firstly the need to strengthen the crucial 'waste management system' in place in the region by bringing the existing staff on to a regular footing and treating them at par with the rest of the provincial government employees in terms of all perks and privileges. It became ascertainable that the officials are not equitably treated disregarding the important role they pay to keep the environment clean which merits unhindered payment of salaries to them from regular budget is concerned. Alongside, 'public waste bins' too, are required to be made available in simultaneous with their lifting/emptying by using hydraulic trucks as being done in other cities.
Further Mechanization of Danyore Facility
It became ascertainable from the Waste Management officials of Danyore tasked with garbage-disposal work as far as Sakwar, Sultanbad, Jutal and sometimes Nomal while they allege that the garbage brought by individuals from the nearby Oshikhandas and Jalalabad according to this claim, is oft-found littered at Torrokee Das which further complicates things and enhances the burden of Waste Management Unit, Danyore who have to remove it by pressing into service the skeletal fleet comprising only 06 Suzuki-lifters. This contention is, however, denied by the inhabitants of those localities who maintain that the litter is disposed of at Torrekee, by the Solid Waste Managers themselves there instead of finding a way out at an appropriate landfill elsewhere. Be it as it may, the scarcity of the existing garbage-lifting machines together with those to siphon off septic tanks of householders, needs be addressed at the earliest to enable the respective employees to extend effective coverage to enable them to effectively extend the service as far as Oshikhandas-Jalalabad, for procurement of six more Suzuki-lifters and placement at their disposal alone would make them well-poised to tackle the situation.
Procurement of light Tankered Mazadas or Shazoure Vans:
It is said that currently, there are one or two mini-trucks fitted with tankers at the Municipal headquarters, available for hiring. These are being pressed into use for pumping out and emptying the sceptic tanks while this mechanism can exclusively be employed for emptying the septic tanks of commercial buildings whereas the households of the Mohellahs with narrow streets where even their long hose doesn't reach - are unable to get the job done. In such cases, smaller or light vehicles fitted with the facility alone can do. For instance, a householder in any Mohellah with such narrow roads if needing to have a septic tank emptied presently, is constrained the truck at higher charges, say, Rs.6-8 thousand for the purpose. In case of availability of the facility of a light vehicle tanker, single households seeking the facility would not be forced to unnecessarily pay double or treble charges as remains the case currently. Moreover, it will become greatly instrumental in generating funds for the management as the services will be oft-hired by the citizenry.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to make a passing reference to yet another festering situation warranting immediate attention of the respective administrative authorities and particularly the National Highway Authority (NHA) in regard to the glaring nonchalance displayed in the context of maintenance of the side drains of KKH in Danyore which remains clogged and at places broken with the water virtually spilling over to the center of the road (tarmac). One surprises as to why this oft-visited patch of road remains subject to the neglect posing a hazardous situation.