At the Bhalswa landfill in northwest Delhi, a steady stream of jeeps hauls up a pile of garbage to dump more garbage on the 62-meter (203-foot) high fort.
Fires fueled by heat and methane gas are sporadic — the Delhi Fire Department has responded to 14 fires so far this year — and some deep beneath the stack burn for weeks or months, while men, women and children work nearby, sifting through. scavenge to find items to sell.
Some of Bhalswa’s 200,000 residents say the area is uninhabitable, but they can’t afford to move and have no choice but to breathe the toxic air and bathe in its polluted water.
Bhalswa is not the biggest landfill in Delhi. It is about three meters lower than the largest, Gazipur, and both contribute to the country’s total methane gas production.
Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, but it is a stronger contributor to the climate crisis because methane traps more heat. According to GHGSat, which monitors methane via satellites, India produces more methane from landfills than any other country.
According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Methane Tracker, India is second only to China in terms of total methane emissions.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that as part of the “Clean India” initiative, efforts are being made to clear these mountains of garbage and turn them into green zones. If this goal is achieved, it could alleviate some of the suffering of residents living in the shadow of these landfills and help the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
India wants to reduce methane production, but has not joined 130 countries registrants The Global Methane PromiseA pact to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2020 by 2030. Scientists estimate that reduction could reduce global temperature increases by 0.2% and help the world meet its goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
India says it won’t join because most of its methane emissions come from agriculture – about 74% comes from farm animals and rice paddies, and less than 15% from landfills.
In a statement last year, Ashwini Choubey, Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said pledging to reduce India’s overall methane production could threaten farmers’ livelihoods and affect India’s trade and economic prospects.
But it also faces challenges in reducing methane from steaming landfills.
Narayan Choudhary, 72, said when he moved to Bhalswa in 1982 it was a “beautiful place”, but everything changed 12 years later when the first garbage started arriving at the local dump.
Since then, the Bhalswa dump has grown as tall as the historic Taj Mahal, becoming a landmark in its own right and an eyesore that towers over the surrounding houses. affects the health of people living there.
Choudhary suffers from chronic asthma. He said he was about to die in April when a huge fire burned for days in Bhalswa. “I was in terrible shape. My face and nose were swollen. I was on my deathbed,” he said.
“Two years ago, we protested … many residents from this area protested (to get rid of waste),” Choudhary said. “However, the municipality did not cooperate with us. They assured us that things will improve in two years, but here we are, there is no relief.”
According to a 2020 report on India’s landfills by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit research agency in New Delhi, the landfill reached capacity in 2002, but without government standardization in recycling systems and greater industry efforts to reduce plastic. . consumption and production, tons of garbage continue to arrive at the site every day.
Bhalswa isn’t the only landfill that worries nearby residents — it’s one of three landfills in Delhi filled with rotting waste and emitting toxic fumes into the air.
There are more than 3100 landfills across the country. Gazipur is the largest in Delhi at 65 meters (213 ft) and, like Bhalswa, exceeded its waste capacity in 2002 and now produces large amounts of methane.
According to GHGSat, more than two metric tons of methane gas leaked from the site every hour on one day in March.
“If continued for a year, methane leakage from this landfill would have the same impact on the climate as the annual emissions of 350,000 US cars,” said GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain.
Methane emissions are not the only threat from landfills like Bhalswa and Ghazipur. For decades, dangerous toxins have seeped into the ground, contaminating the water supply of thousands of nearby residents.
In May, CNN commissioned two accredited laboratories to test the groundwater around the Bhalswa landfill. According to the results, groundwater within a radius of at least 500 meters (1,600 feet) around the waste site is contaminated.
In the first lab report, ammonia and sulfate levels were much higher than the acceptable limits given by the Indian government.
The results of a second lab report showed total dissolved solids (TDS) levels — the amount of inorganic salts and organic matter dissolved in water — found in one of the samples were almost 19 times the acceptable limit, making it unsafe for human consumption.
The Bureau of Indian Standards sets the acceptable limit of TDS 500 milligrams/liter, a number that appears to be approx “Good” by the World Health Organization (WHO)🇧🇷 Anything above 900 mg/l is considered “poor” by the WHO, and anything above 1200 mg/l is considered “unacceptable”.
According to Richa Singh of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the TDS of water drawn near the Bhalswa site was between 3,000 and 4,000 mg/l. “This water is not only unfit for drinking, but also unfit for skin contact,” he said. “Therefore, it cannot be used for purposes such as bathing, cleaning dishes, or cleaning clothes.”
Dr. Nitesh Rohatgi, director of medical oncology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, urged the government to study the health of the local population and compare it to other areas of the city, “so that in 15 to 20 years we don’t look back and see more cancer, a higher health risk.” , we regret having higher health problems and not looking back and correcting them in time.
In Bhalswa, most people rely on bottled water for drinking, but use local water for other purposes – many say they have no choice.
“The water we get is contaminated, but we have to helplessly store it and use it for washing dishes, bathing and sometimes drinking too much,” said resident Sonia Bibi, whose legs are covered in thick, red rashes.
Jwala Prashad, 87, who lives in a small shack in an alley near the landfill, said the pile of rotting garbage had made his life a “living hell”.
“The color of the water we use is pale red. “My skin burns after the bath as I try to soothe the red scars on her face and neck,” she said.
“But I can never afford to leave this place,” he said.
Every day, more than 2,300 tonnes of municipal waste enters Delhi’s largest landfill at Gazipur. the report was released in July by a joint committee formed to find ways to reduce the number of fires in the field.
The report says that this is the bulk of the waste from the surrounding areas – a total of 300 tonnes is treated and disposed of in other ways. And less than 7% of old waste is bio-mined, which involves digging up, cleaning and potentially reusing old waste.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi deploys drones every three months to monitor the size of the garbage pile and is experimenting with ways to extract methane from the garbage mountain.
But there’s a lot of garbage coming in every day to keep up. The committee said bio-mining was “slow and late” and that it was “very difficult” for the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (now merged with the North and South Delhi Municipal Corporations) to meet its target of “fixing the garbage mountain”. 2024.
“Effective plans have not been developed to reduce the height of the waste mountain,” the report said. In addition, he “should have suggested to them a long time ago that dumping would contaminate groundwater systems,” he said.
CNN sent a series of questions to India’s Environment and Health ministries along with data from the water testing survey. There was no response from the ministries.
In a 2019 report, the Indian government recommended ways to improve solid waste management in the country, including formalizing the recycling sector and installing more composting plants in the country.
Although some improvements have been made, such as better door-to-door garbage collection and waste treatment, waste continues to pile up in Delhi’s landfills.
In October, the National Green Tribunal fined the state government more than $100 million for failing to dispose of more than 30 million metric tonnes of waste at three landfill sites.
“The problem is that there is no concrete solid waste action plan in Delhi,” said CSE’s Singh. “So we’re talking about landfill remediation and cleaning up old waste here, but imagine the fresh waste that’s being generated on a regular basis. All these are thrown into these dumps every day.”
“(So) let’s say you process 1,000 tonnes of legacy (waste) and then throw out 2,000 tonnes of fresh waste every day, it becomes a vicious cycle. It will be a never-ending process,” Singh said.
“Hereditary waste management is, of course, mandated by the government and very, very important. But you can’t start the process without an alternative fresh waste facility. So, this is the biggest problem.”
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