Journalism and the environment

09. Karachi drowning in garbage: Pakistani journalist Asad Pabani explains /

Waste management is a global issue. Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi, is literally drowning in waste. Two organizations are trying to tackle this open-air rubbish dump, as we will see with journalist Asad Pabani.

Asad Pabani – Journalist – Pakistan

The worst of the environmental issues are often suffered by people also living in the worst economic conditions.

Karachi produces more than 10,000 tonnes of garbage every day.

Neither the city authorities nor the provincial government have contained the resulting waste management problem.

The provincial executive has mandated Chinese companies to handle waste in at least two of the city’s five districts.

Asad Pabani – Journalist – Pakistan

Calling in the Chinese was kind of a gimmick, which our governments love to do to show that they’re working on a problem.

Unfortunately, they often resort to gimmicks rather than actually solving the issue, which really, when you get down to it is pretty simple. It just requires political will. There needs to be designated trash areas in every neighbourhood, from where trash is regularly collected and taken to either recycling or landfill areas.

It’s the simple things that aren’t being done, and I’m not sure that delegating it to the Chinese will get it done, when the basics haven’t been done yet.

Social enterprises specialized in waste management are trying to contain the problem.

Asad Pabani – Journalist – Pakistan

Even the trash actually picked up by city government is just deposited in a landfill. It isn’t processed for recyclables or otherwise. You do have an informal recycling industry, which is quite exploitative, but it functions to a certain degree. Even then, a lot of goods that could potentially be recycled are instead being dumped in landfills.

When you talk about organisations like Saaf Suthra Sheher or Trashit, they’re essentially bringing in these techniques of composting or recycling, which are common in many countries around the world. They’re trying to bring them to Pakistan, where rather than waste pickers recycling through trash to pick out potentially recyclable goods, you have people recycling their trash at the source, and handing it over to these recycling companies.

In Pakistan, economic inequalities only worsen environmental justice in developing countries.

Asad Pabani – Journalist – Pakistan

The areas that are most affected by waste management are the areas we call ‘katchi abadis’ which perhaps translated to English are slum settlements. Approximately half of the people in Karachi and in the other cities of Pakistan live in slum settlements. So, when it comes to lack of proper disposal or picking up of waste, these are the areas that are affected the most.

And even when it comes to improper dumping of waste, it’s often in these areas or close by that the waste is dumped. It’s not just a matter of waste being dumped there. In our landfills, we usually dispose of waste by burning it. Their air quality is affected, the land quality, meaning the immediate surroundings of where they live are affected. The water quality that they receive is often infected. It especially has a big impact in Pakistan, and in Karachi. I try to speak to businesses involved in this kind of work on the ground.

In carrying out his environmental surveys, Asad Pabani relies on multiple sources in the field.

Asad Pabani – Journalist – Pakistan

It can be a business or a government organisation, depending on the kind of issue we’re talking about. I’m trying to speak to those people on the ground. Along with that, I try to make sure I speak to experts in the field. For example, when it came to waste management, I made sure to reach out to a couple of urban planners that quite frankly have far more experience in this field than I do. Or I visit landfill sites and other garbage collection sites, so I get a sense of what’s going on.

I also try to do my own research on the ground myself. The main difficulty I usually face in my stories is getting a proper response from the government. When it comes to negative stories, or highlighting the flaws, or criticism, they’re usually quite reluctant to speak to you, and it’s very difficult to get any kind of useful information out of them.

It’s a big problem, because in Pakistan, there isn’t much publicly available government information on the Internet, so you can’t bypass officials and get the information on your own. You should just take basic safety precautions, like try and communicate through encrypted methods of communication, like WhatsApp or Signal.

Minimise the digital footprint of your work unless it absolutely needs to be out there once it’s published. Try and have contacts inside or outside the government, because having contacts generally helps when it comes to getting stories done, whatever environment you’re in.

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