The human population keeps growing. Now we are more than 7 billion people in the world. This growth is matched only by the growth in the garbage that people generate. Waste management in urban areas has been a priority for several good reasons. However, according to the World Bank, 46% of the world’s population still lives in rural areas, where waste management is hardly anybody’s concern.
So far as our Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, the majority of the population lives in rural areas. There is, still, much green and clean environment in rural areas but it is degrading fast. The surroundings are being filled with waste, particularly with non-biodegradable waste. Be it lush green forests or clean water streams flowing down from the Himalayas, garbage is clogging them all.
The lifestyle in urban areas is nowadays not much different than in rural Kashmir, as technology and common amenities have narrowed the gap between the two. But in the matter of collection of waste, urban areas are much more managed and better serviced. In urban areas we have municipal corporations that take care of waste management, but in villages there is still no proper civic authority entrusted with the task.
There is huge quantity of waste produced in villages now, as the population consumes almost everything that people in cities do. The villages also suffer from the problem of lack of proper disposal of sewage waste. The Rural Development department should intervene, seeking the active participation of locals in disposing of sewage waste. Unfortunately, the department has confined its role to constructing toilets but has not bothered with sanitation and sewerage systems. The Swacch Bharat Mission guidelines had a clear policy on solid as well as liquid waste management in rural areas at the Halqa Panchayat level, but the guidelines have not been implemented. Our villages seem to have been converted into garbage dumping sites. Particularly around the Panchayat offices we can see the surroundings filled with garbage. The majority of our cannels, streams and small rivers have been choked with polythene and solid waste, which further pollutes our major water bodies.
There is also woeful lack of civic sense among the people living in rural areas. They have confined the principles of sanitation to the four walls of their houses. It is common practice to unload dustbins full of solid waste on the banks of rivers, streams or in green areas like edges of forests or in fields and bushes. This ultimately degrades the entire environment and affects all creatures that live in it.
Even though the majority of our population lives in villages we don’t have any such mechanism to deal with garbage and other solid and liquid waste as we have in urban areas. Unless and until we find a way to deal with rural waste, our efforts to keep urban areas clean will never yield desired results because ultimately by way of natural processes the waste dumped in rural areas will find its way to urban ones. Besides, the pollution of streams and water resources will affect water supply in urban areas and also harm aquatic species.
The need of the hour is to take concrete steps to avoid the coming disaster and this can only be done by establishing waste management plants in every district. The Rural Development department must expand its role in villages with respect to rural sanitation. Rural sanitation is not only limited to construction of drains and toilets and occasional cleaning of streams under MGNERGA. Today we can clean a stream but tomorrow it will again be filled with polythene and other waste. There must be some mechanism of waste collection in villages as we have in towns. Awareness camps must be organised at village level to inculcate civic sense among people regarding sanitation and funds must be allocated for waste collection, segregation, and disposal. Panchayats can play a leading role in making their villages neat and clean. If the right steps are taken, our rivers and streams can be safe and clean again.
I am no one to preach but as a responsible citizen we should not walk away from our responsibilities and we must do something because it is affecting our lives. It’s time to act.