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Abbottabad’s Unseen Bomb: The Future Blast of Waste Management

By: Rimsha Sarwar

In Pakistan’s northern regions, Abbottabad is renowned for its scenic landscapes and historical landmarks. However, beneath its picturesque charm lies a mounting crisis that threatens its environment and public health: a rapidly growing volume of solid waste. With an approximate population of 208,491, the city generates an average of 150 tonnes of waste daily. Yet, its limited infrastructure is struggling to manage this influx effectively.

Abbottabad’s solid waste disposal system faces a plethora of issues. The most pressing is budgetary constraints. A staggering 87% of the waste management budget in Abbottabad tehsil and 92% in Havelian is consumed by salaries, leaving scant resources for enhancing or expanding waste collection services. This fiscal misalignment has led to a deteriorating infrastructure, with municipal workers relying on outdated equipment last issued in 1998.

Current collection vehicles, unsuited for narrow streets, leave garbage uncollected in many areas. Even at full operational capacity, the district’s collection system can only handle 42 tonnes daily, leaving an estimated 28 tonnes of waste uncollected each day. Moreover, the garbage collection services are inconsistent, and in some locales, they are nonexistent. Jurisdictional ambiguities further exacerbate the problem, with unclear responsibilities between municipal agencies and cantonment boards, leaving several neighborhoods without proper waste management.

The challenge is not merely institutional. Shifts in lifestyle and consumption patterns have intensified the problem. An increasing use of non-biodegradable materials like plastic bags, bottles, and disposable diapers, across all income levels, has augmented the volume and altered the composition of waste, complicating disposal efforts. The prevailing community practice of indiscriminately discarding waste into streets, open drains, or burning it in the open air exacerbates the situation.

Improperly disposed waste poses severe public health and environmental threats. Streets littered with garbage become breeding grounds for diseases, and waste dumped near water bodies contaminates the water supply. The open burning of waste releases toxic fumes, contributing to air pollution. Non-biodegradable waste clogs drains and sewerage systems, leading to infrastructure damage. The indiscriminate dumping of untreated hospital and industrial waste is particularly hazardous, introducing pathogens and toxic substances into the environment, and endangering both human and ecological health.

Fieldwork in the Mirpur area of Abbottabad reveals that most waste generated is organic, paper, and plastic. Residents typically dispose of waste in open areas, a practice that poses challenges both to the public and local authorities. The absence of a systematic waste disposal approach not only disrupts the community but also hinders effective governance.

Abbottabad’s waste management system is plagued by administrative inefficiencies, including:

The vast majority of funds are allocated to salaries, leaving minimal resources for operational improvements. When transportation is available, it often fails to adhere to schedules, resulting in irregular collections.

The Future Blast of Waste Management in Abbottabad is a ticking time bomb that demands urgent attention and comprehensive strategies to avert an environmental and public health catastrophe. The city’s administration must prioritize investment in modern waste management infrastructure, enforce jurisdictional clarity, and cultivate community awareness to mitigate this growing crisis.

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