Weekly Musings Keeping The City Clean
Keep the city clean is an oft repeated slogan that politicians seem to use to win over more adherents to their brand of political party. The new mayor of the Kathmandu, Bidhya Sundar Shakya, soon after assuming the much coveted office, launched “Clean the city” campaign, a truly laudable step. The campaign was launched at by the newly elected mayor and deputy mayor – the two belong to different political parties – amidst a function at Bansbari. The coming together of the mayor and his deputy with different political ideologies to work for the people and not for the benefit of their political parties that have their own interests and priorities is a healthy sign that could herald a better future for the city and its dwellers, if such cooperation can continue in all future people-oriented issues. However, one cannot help but recall that the city cleaning campaign was also launched by no less a personality than the then Prime Minister in April 2012. That was some five years ago and is a testimony that such campaigns put up to try to convince the people that they are doing something for them. If the programme launched by the then Prime Minister had continued till date in the city, there would have been no need for the fanfare and media attention evoked by the “Clean the city” campaign launched by the new mayor. For the city would have had a neat and clean look after five years of cleaning efforts. Yet this is not so.
A news item published in this newspaper said that 91 percent of the Nepalese people have access to basic sanitation facilities. Is this so or is it merely a tall claim of the concerned ministry? The question has to be asked even as the spokesperson of the ministry is quoted as saying that at least 38 districts of the country's 75 districts are yet to be open defecation free, that is more than half the country is yet to be open defecation free. One can be sure that Kathmandu district is completely open defecation free but one would ask the concerned persons to go around Tundhikhel in the morning and then come to the New Road Gate to see for themselves just how "open defecation free" even a so-called posh city like Kathmandu is. There is every need to ensure that not only the city of Kathmandu but also all towns and cities of the country have to be "open defecation free" and to achieve such goals, free public toilets, specially in densely populated areas, are of prime importance. Perhaps Mayor Shakya and his recently elected colleagues, including ward committee members, in the Kathmandu Metropolitan city government will care to pay some heed in this direction and ensure that free public toilets are made available in different parts of the metropolis so that those who cannot afford to pay - and there are numerous such people in the city - do not use open air as their toilets. This should be a part of the mayor's clean city campaign.
An ancient proverb says that cleanliness is next only to godliness. It is said that the Hebrew religion thought of physical cleanliness led to spiritual purity. However old the saying, it is not without rationale even today's materialistic world. The fact is that unclean surroundings have a direct impact on the health of the people. Most of the communicable diseases are spread by unclean surroundings including contaminated drinking water. (It is to be presumed that the drinking water supplied in the valley is not contaminated even if sometimes the water stinks and sometimes human, kitchen and other kinds of waste come mingled with the drinking water in our water taps!)
The city cleaning campaign of the new mayor would be meaningless if the new team fails to take into account contaminated drinking water supply by the government owned Water Supply Company or others owned by private enterprises (sold in bottles and jars). Drinking water is one of the most basic needs of the people and water usually get contaminated by faulty or leaking sewerage system or through garbage and other rubbish dumped in rivers and streams, the source of most drinking water. The cleaning programme needs to focus in this direction and prevent the public (and even the municipality) dumping the waste in or near rivers. The Clean Bagmati campaign has been going on for years but the people have yet to realise the why such cleaning campaigns are necessary and why the Bagmati as well as other rivers have to be kept as clean as possible.
Then there is the task of the concerned government agency that takes care of the sewerage system in the city. Some such system in the outer parts of the city are of recent construction but the ones in the inner city date back to old Rana times and there is an urgent need to update and upgrade them in the inner parts of the city. But until the time when such steps are taken, the concerned agency need to periodically check the system at all points to ensure that they are functioning properly. Many blame improper and inadequate monitoring of the sewerage system for the drinking water that come contaminated with sewerage waste. Most people pay a monthly sewerage fee to the water supply and sewage agency and many wonder what happens to such a monthly fee they pay if it is not used for the maintenance of the system. The mayor's clean the city campaign need to take this fact into consideration.
The Kathmandu municipality sends its employees to sweep the streets, roads, lanes and by-lanes of the city early in the morning. The dirt and garbage are collected in different spots and taken away. By seven in the morning, the streets are clean but as time passes, the shopkeepers open their doors and clean their shops and offices and the dirt is dumped in the streets. This results in the dirtying of the streets and in environmental pollution. Perhaps the Clean City campaign might be able to prevent this kind of thing from happening and strictly telling shop owners to ensure that they don't do such a thing and that they put the dirt and other waste in designated spots or containers.
The mayor's clean city programme would be incomplete without placing garbage containers at different but easily approachable locations in different parts of the city. This will prevent dumping of the waste by the residents in open areas. There are in fact at least three open dumping sites in New Road, beginning with the New Road Gate, Khichapokhari-Pyukha crossroad and Pipal-ko-Bot. Placing garbage containers at appropriate sites will prevent this from happening and make the task of municipality employees that much easier. And there are so many other areas that need the attention of the Clean the City campaign including the need to educate us the people on the need keep the city clean. But it is to be hoped that the new mayor unlike the then prime minister in 2012 does not just launch the clean the city campaign and then wrap it all up and call it a day. That would indeed be this city's misfortune.