Solid waste and excreta disposal in Murree Hills

By Prof. Farah A Khan :

Waste (solid waste and excreta) management should be a civil society and government priority to save our future environment with unabated population increase. I was surprised to learn that there is Pakistan Environment Protection Act 1997 is in place yet we do not see any decrease in waste production or its management. Provincial Environment Protection Agencies are operative in each province but their role in performing their functions is dubious. All our major cities are heavily polluted and the problem is multiplying. With poor waste management our drinking water is also badly polluted.

In context of Murree solid waste includes plastics, paper, textile, glass, metal (these may be collectively called garbage) and organic waste (human excreta and food left overs). Hospital waste is minimal but needs to be properly disposed off. Collection of garbage is the easy part but disposal of the collected garbage is not simple. Today garbage is simply dumped in the khud and called landfill. This open landfill has its own impact on the environment since it is exposed to rain and snow. The pollutants of landfill find their way into streams, reservoirs and springs with disastrous consequences on drinking water. Burning of sold waste in incinerators creates atmospheric pollution and hence not acceptable.

Making a semi-aerobic landfill is an efficient way of solid waste disposal but has not been tried in Pakistan. On the other hand burning solid waste under controlled conditions can generate electricity. Both these options will be difficult to maintain and run. It is possible that we may find new mini ‘Rental Power Plants’.

Unfortunately we have no data on waste disposal of Murree. It would be pertinent to highlight the issue in case river Ravi. The total length of Ravi is 422 miles and has a discharge of 0.94 Million Acre Feet (maf) is now dumping ground of municipal and industrial waste. It receives Mahmood Booti drain, Sukh Naher Drain, Shadbagh Drain, Shahdara Town Pumping Station, Forest Colony Pumping Station, Furakhabad Drain, Buddha Ravi, Main Out Fall Drain, Gulshan-e-Ravi Drain, and Babu Sabu Drain. Then there are industrial cum sewerage drains. These are Hudiara Drain, Deg Nallah, Faisalabad, Samundry Drain, Faisalabad, Sukhwara Drain, Sahiwal, and Gojra Drain, TT Singh. These drains and others throw 1,810 cusecs of municipal sewage and toxic industrial waste into Ravi. At the new Ravi bridge the water oxygen level is too low to support aquatic life. The Wasa and LDA under court pressure have agreed to establish sewerage treatment plants (Raza, Ali. Ravi threatens aquatic life, groundwater. City News. February 17, 2009). Since early 1980s during winters the Ravi has been an open sewage discharging hydrogen sulphide. The civil society and the government have ignored the issue of industrial waste and sewage dumping into Ravi.

Other rivers and canals in Punjab are not doing any better. According to Environmental Protection Department at 15 points toxic industrial waste and municipal sewerage is being thrown into river Chenab. This is calculated as 9000 million gallons of wastewater carrying 20,000 tons of BOD5. The upper Jhelum canal is also bringing in wastewater. The wastewater from Multan city was the worst since there is no treatment plant (Raza, Ali. Six districts throwing untreated waste into Chenab. The News City News. February 25, 2009).

The mountains of Pakistan are a fragile ecosystem, which needs careful handling. In this context human excreta disposal is of concern. Majority of Pakistanis do not have access to toilets. In India 87% in urban areas and 33% in rural areas have access to toilets. But this is not the end of the story. Most of the sewage from cities goes into lakes and rivers untreated. Only Surat has a system of producing electricity from sewage (Acharya, Keya. India drowns in its own waste. The Nation/Asia Times Online. August 4, 2012). With increase in population the environment in the mountain areas has been badly hit. Due to lack of proper toilets raw sewage is drained into nallahs and eventually into rivers, springs and reservoirs. The system of ‘septic tanks’ for the houses may not be according to specifications and are polluting the ground water. The water supply of Murree is thus highly polluted and not fit for human consumption. Rather than fixing the water contamination problem the government resorted to establishing water filtration plants for drinking water.

Not just Murree but the Tehsil as a whole needs in depth scientific studies of production of waste and its impact on water in the area. We should also study the methods of environmentally friendly disposal. Scholars have prepared in depth analysis of ‘Solid waste and water quality management models for Sagamatha National Park and buffer zone, Nepal’ (March 2010). Our model would be different and within our resources. There is no need to import ‘experts’ in this field. However we could ask for help from Hunza model, which would be much more, appropriate for Murree town and tehsil.


Our army officers have been regularly sent to US for ‘capacity building/training’ since decades. It would have been appropriate to send them to Vietnam for training in warfare since American experience is not applicable to Pakistan. Our bureaucrats are also sent on ‘capacity building’ stints for few weeks to UK or US. Again this is an inappropriate choice. Malaysia or Singapore would be better for ‘capacity building’.

With Olympic fever at its height we should prepare for the next Olympics. In our 180 million men and women there must be some athletic power. At one time we were tops in squash, hockey and even 100 meters dash. Now that we are down and out we should send teams to Ethiopia for long distance runners, the short distance runners should be sent to Jamaica, our female gymnasts, table tennis and badminton players should go to China, and the rest for training to Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic, Algeria, Korea and Iran. There is a snag in our plan. Firstly these countries will require boys and girls under the age of 6 years of age. Secondly the dress for girls would not please our religiously inclined people. In fact seeing women even in full hijab the Muslim men get aroused. The host countries would insist on disbanding the Pakistani Olympic Association and its subsidiary associations/sports boards. The new Association office bearers should try and include tent pegging, guli danda, kabbadi and horse dancing in the next Olympics. The 2012 Olympics includes some ridiculous ‘sports’. One point is clear. We should send our hockey team to Australia for training especially our goalkeeper.

In the field of academics we have had three experiments of sending people abroad for PhD and failed to upgrade our academics. PhD is an over qualification for Pakistan and has no role to play in the country’s future. Higher Education Commission insists on more PhD’s abroad (HEC awards 16,00 foreign PhD scholarships. APP. The Nation. August 9, 2012). My fear is that sending athletes abroad will also fail to produce outstanding men and women. The problem is of the ‘soil’ in Pakistan, which manages to stifle talent. We have to first clear the mess created by us at home before athletic and academic champions can flourish.

I am surprised that no Fata man was sent for rifle or pistol shooting competition. A Sindhi shkari Wadehra would have done better in skeet shooting but he was not selected.