A trash heap 62 meters high shows the scale of India’s climate challenge

New Delhi

At the Bhalswa garbage dump in northwest Delhi, a fleet of jeeps continues to zigzag up piles of garbage to dump heaps of garbage into a mound now more than 62 meters (203 feet) high.

Fires fueled by methane gas explode quickly — the Delhi Fire Department has responded to 14 fires so far this year — and some under the piles can burn for weeks or months. while men, women and children work closely, checking it out. scrap to find something to sell.

Some of the 200,000 residents of Bhalswa say the area is homeless, but they cannot move and have no other choice but to breathe the toxic air and bathe in its polluted water.

Bhalswa is not the largest dumping ground in Delhi. It is about three meters lower than the largest Ghazipur, but both contribute to the country’s total methane gas.

Methane is the second most greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, but it contributes to climate problems because methane attracts more heat. India produces more methane from landfills than any other country, according to GHGSat, which monitors methane from satellites.

And India comes second only to China for methane emissions, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Methane Tracker.

Ragpicker at the Bhalswa landfill site on April 28, 2022, in New Delhi, India.

As part of his “Clean India” initiative, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that efforts are being made to rid the mountains of garbage and turn them into green areas. The goal, if achieved, could alleviate some of the suffering of those who live in the shadow of the landfill – and help the world reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

India wants to reduce its methane production, but it has not joined the 130 countries signatories to the Global Methane Pledge, an agreement to jointly reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Scientists believe that the reduction could reduce global warming by 0.2% – and help the world reach its goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.

India says it will not join because most of its methane emissions come from agriculture – about 74% from livestock and paddy fields and less than 15% from landfill.

In a statement last year, Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Ashwini Choubey said that the commitment to reduce India’s methane emissions could threaten the lives of farmers and affect businesses. and India’s economic prospects.

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But it also faces challenges in reducing methane from its compost piles.

A boy on a narrow, crowded road in Bhalswa Dairy Village.

When Narayan Choudhary, 72, moved to Bhalswa in 1982, he said it was a “beautiful place,” but that all changed 12 years later when the first garbage started arriving at the landfill.

Over the years, the ruins of Bhalswa have grown almost as big as the historic Taj Mahal, becoming a landmark on its right hand side and overlooking the surrounding buildings. affecting the health of the people living there.

Choudhary suffers from chronic asthma. He said he almost died when a huge fire broke out in Bhalswa in April that lasted for several days. “I’m in terrible shape. Swollen face and nose. I’m on my deathbed,” he said.

“Two years ago, we protested… many residents of this area protested (to clear the garbage),” said Choudhary. But, the people of the village did not support us. They assured us that things would be better in two years but here we are, there is no relief.”

The landfill was exhausted in 2002, according to a 2020 report on India’s waste from the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a non-profit research institute in New Delhi, but in -lack of government regulation and recycling processes and large corporate efforts to reduce plastic. consumption and production, tonnes of waste continue to enter the site every day.

A narrow winding road at Bhalswa Dairy Village.

Bhalswa is not the only dump causing problems for nearby residents – it is one of the three landfills in Delhi, full of biodegradable waste and spewing poisonous gases into the air.

Across the country, there are more than 3,100 landfills. Ghazipur is the largest in Delhi, standing at 65 meters (213 feet), and like Bhalswa, it exceeded its disposal capacity in 2002 and is now producing large amounts of methane.

According to GHGSat, on one day in March, more than two metric tons of methane gas was emitted from the site every hour.

“If it persists for a year, the methane emissions from this waste will have the same climate impact as the emissions of 350,000 US cars per year,” said GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain.

It was not the only danger that resulted from the spillage of Bhalswa and Ghazipur. Over the decades, hazardous waste has seeped into the ground, contaminating the water supply of thousands of nearby residents.

In May, CNN commissioned two labs to test groundwater near the Bhalswa landfill. And according to the results, ground water within at least 500 meters (1,600-feet) around the waste site is contaminated.

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Groundwater samples from Bhalswa landfill in northwest Delhi.

In the first laboratory report, ammonia and sulfate levels were higher than the acceptable limits prescribed by the Indian government.

Results from a second laboratory report showed the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) – the amount of inorganic salts and organic matter dissolved in water – found in one of the samples was almost is 19 times the permissible limit, making it unsafe for human consumption.

The Bureau of Indian Standards sets the acceptable limit of TDS at 500 milligrams/liter, a figure that is considered “good” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Anything above 900 mg/l as WHO is considered “poor” and more than 1,200 mg/l is “unacceptable.”

According to Richa Singh from the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the TDS of the water taken near Bhalswa is between 3,000 and 4,000 mg/l. He said: “This water is not safe to drink, but it is also not safe to touch the skin.” “So it can’t be used for things like bathing or cleaning utensils or drying clothes.”

Dr. Nitesh Rohatgi, director of oncology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, urged the government to study the health of the villagers and compare it to other parts of the country, “to in 15 to 20 years. , we don’t look back and regret that we had high cancer, high health risk, high health problems and we didn’t look back and correct them in time. ”

Many people in Bhalswa rely on bottled water for drinking, but use local water for other purposes – many say they have no choice.

“The water we get is polluted, but we have to save it without help and use it to wash dishes, bathe and sometimes drink,” said Sonia Bibi, who lives at its feet, who red covered his legs, said.

Jwala Prashad, 87, who lives in a small house on the road near the garbage dump, said the garbage dump made his life “hell.”

“The water we use is bright red. My skin burns after I shower,” she said, while trying to calm the reddening on her face and neck.

“But I can never leave this place,” he added.

Jwala Prashad, 87, in a small pump in front of his house in Bhalswa Dairy Village.

More than 2,300 tons of Municipal Solid Waste arrives at the Delhi landfill in Ghazipur every day, according to a report issued in July by a joint committee formed to find ways to reduce the number of fires at the site.

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That’s a lot of waste from the surrounding area – only 300 tons are processed and disposed of by other means, the report said. And less than 7% of waste is biodegradable, which includes the extraction, treatment and reuse of old waste.

The Delhi Municipal Corporation deploys drones every three months to monitor the amount of garbage and is testing ways to extract methane from the garbage mountains, the report said.

But a lot of waste comes in every day to be stored. The committee said mining of organic matter is “slow and time-consuming” and “it is unlikely that the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (which is affiliated to the North and South Delhi Municipal Corporations) will achieve its objective of “demolition mountain of garbage”. 2024.

“There are no effective plans to reduce the height of the waste mountain,” the report said. Also, “it should have been suggested long ago that future dumping of waste will harm the groundwater system,” the report added.

CNN sent a series of questions and data from water survey questions to India’s environment and health ministries. There has been no response from government officials.

In a 2019 report, the Indian government proposed ways to improve the country’s solid waste management, including organizing recycling zones and installing more compost bins in the country.

Although some improvements have been made, such as door-to-door waste collection and better waste management, Delhi’s landfills continue to accumulate waste.

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 across three landfills.

“The problem is that Delhi doesn’t have a good solid waste management plan,” said Singh from CSE. “Therefore, we talk about the rehabilitation of the landfill and the treatment of waste, and think about the new waste that is created all the time. All this is thrown away every day n ‘into the landfill.’

“(So) let’s say you treat 1,000 tons of legacy (waste) and throw away 2,000 new wastes every day it will become a vicious cycle. It will be a never-ending process, Singh said.

“Of course, the government mandated the management of legacy waste, and it’s very important. But you can’t start this process without another place for new waste. So that’s a big challenge.”


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