Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi turned ‘into rubbish bin’

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In this photograph taken on January 24, 2017, a Pakistani municipal worker dumps garbage in a residential area of Karachi. (AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM)
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In this photograph taken on January 24, 2017, Pakistani youths search for their ball as they walk among dumped garbage at a residential area of Karachi. (AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM)
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In this photograph taken on January 18, 2017, a Pakistani child searches for recyclable items from dumped garbage in Karachi. (AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM)
Updated 05 March 2017

Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi turned ‘into rubbish bin’

KARACHI, Pakistan: Neighbors forced their way into Mohammad Umair’s home battling smoke and flames in a desperate bid to rescue his young family — he and his wife survived, their children did not.
The fire began in a heap of garbage which blocked the narrow alley outside the five-story building and quickly spread inside, engulfing the family as they slept that night.
The tragic case has angered citizens of Karachi already frustrated by a failing waste management system, who are calling for more to be done.
Umair, a 31-year-old cloth merchant, breaks down as he explains that two of his children died before they even reached the hospital.
“The third one, Abdul Aziz, died while the doctors were trying to save his life,” Umair adds, recalling the cluster of doctors working frantically but futilely around the tiny body of his infant son.
Police have yet to find out what caused the rubbish to catch fire but it spread quickly to their first floor apartment, filling the lone bedroom they shared where the family were all sleeping together.
Umair’s wife Shameen blames the city and its citizens for her children’s deaths.
“Those who dump trash and those who do not fulfil their duties to clean up are responsible,” she says flatly, eyes dry as she stands with her husband among the cinders of their former home. “Who else?“
Shameen is perhaps the most tragic figure to point fingers at waste management authorities accused of corruption and ineptitude, but she is not the first or the only one.
“The present capacity and resources of (the city) cannot cater to the quantum of garbage being generated daily,” AD Sajnani, chief of the provincial Solid Waste Management Board (SWMB) set up in 2015 to deal with the garbage disposal, told AFP bluntly.
Karachi, a megacity of towering high rises and sprawling illegal settlements on the Arabian Sea, saw its growth explode in recent decades after waves of migration, largely refugees fleeing the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Its population of at least 20-25 million produces roughly 12,000 tons of trash daily, officials say.
Municipal authorities are able to remove about half, says Sajnani — though skeptics argue it is far less.
The rest is strewn in the streets and alleys, some organic and decomposing in the sweltering heat of the port, the rest piling higher and higher.
Alarmingly, some officials and residents are improvising — burning the leftover garbage, largely plastic waste, says Imran Sabir, a senior official at the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for Sindh province.
“The plastic burns and releases toxic gases,” some of which are carcinogenic, he says.
The burning goes on for months at a time beneath hazy skies in some parts of the city.

Overflowing landfills
There are two landfill sites located in Karachi’s western outskirts, Sajnani of the SWMB said — but they are far from the city center, on traffic-clogged roads, and at any rate are already overflowing.
Political bickering and finger-pointing make solutions hard to grasp.
“This city has been turned into a huge rubbish bin,” Karachi’s former mayor Mustafa Kamal roared at a public rally recently.
Kamal, who served as mayor until 2010, blamed sheer corruption and the gross incompetence of his political rivals, citing kickbacks on waste disposal contracts and even the diesel used to run the garbage trucks.
But current mayor Waseem Akhtar, elected in 2016, complains he has no money and no power, his authority taken away by the provincial government, which in turn has now brought in Chinese contractors to manage garbage disposal in at least two of the city’s five districts.
Many believe the real fix can only come if authorities and citizens address the root of the problem: rampant consumption and waste by millions of residents in a city where there is no recycling, no attempt to curb the use of plastic and no one willing to take responsibility for cleaning up.
Local culture must be “radically transformed,” warns KMC’s Zaman.


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 12 August 2020

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.