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


New Delhi
CNN

At the Bhalswa landfill in northwestern Delhi, a steady stream of zigzag jeeps ascend the rubbish dump to dump more rubbish on the now more than 62-meter (203-foot) pile.

Heat and methane fires have erupted – Delhi Fire Department has responded to 14 fires so far, and at some depths under the piles could burn for weeks or more. Months while men, women and children work nearby. Trash to find items for sale.

Some of the 200,000 residents of Bhalswa say the area is uninhabited, but they are unable to move and have no choice but to breathe poisonous air and bathe in contaminated water.

Bhalswa is not Delhi’s largest landfill. It is about 3 meters lower than the largest Gaza Strip, and both contribute to the country’s total methane output.

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, but is a major contributor to climate change as methane heats up more. India produces more methane from landfills than any other country, according to GHGSat, which monitors methane by satellite.

And India ranks second after China in total methane emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Global Methane Tracker.

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

As part of the “Clean India” initiative, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said efforts were being made to remove these rubbish mountains and turn them into green areas. That goal, if achieved, could alleviate some of the hardships of those residents living in the shadows of these landfills and help the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

India wants to reduce its methane output but has not joined 130 countries. Signed the Global Methane Pledge Agreement, a pact to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from the 2020 level by 2030. Scientists estimate that this reduction could reduce global warming by 0.2% and help the world achieve its goal. Keep the temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

India says it will not participate, as most of its methane emissions come from agriculture, about 74% from farm animals and less than 15% from landfills.

In a statement last year, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change Ashwini Choubey said India’s promise to reduce total methane production could threaten farmers’ livelihoods and hurt the country’s trade and economic prospects. India.

But it also faces the challenge of reducing methane from evaporating landfills.

A boy on a narrow street in a slum in Bhalswa Dairy village.

When 72-year-old Narayan Choudhary moved to Bhalswa in 1982, he said it was a “beautiful place” but everything changed 12 years later when the first rubbish started to arrive. Local landfill.

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Over the years, the Bhalswa landfill has risen to almost the same height as the historic Taj Mahal and has become a landmark to its right and a landmark tower over the surrounding houses. Affect the health of those who live there.

Choudhary suffers from chronic asthma. He said he was almost killed when a huge fire broke out in Bhalswa in April, which burned for several days. “I’m in bad shape. My face and nose are swollen. I am on the bed of death. ”

“Two years ago we heard a lot of residents from the area protesting (to get rid of),” said Choudhary. Waste). But the city did not cooperate with us. They assured us that things would get better in two years, but we are here with no relief. No, ”he said.

According to a 2020 report on India landfills from the Center for Science and the Environment (CSE), a non-profit research agency in New Delhi, but without government standards in recycling systems and more industrial efforts to Cut the plastic. Consumption and production of tons of waste continues to arrive on a daily basis.

Narrow streets of anarchy in Bhalswa milk village.

Bhalswa is not the only landfill that bothers nearby residents, it is a landfill in Of the three landfills in Delhi, overflowing with corrosive waste and toxic emissions.

There are more than 3,100 landfills nationwide. Ghazipur is the largest city in Delhi, standing at 65 meters (213 feet) and, like Bhalswa, it exceeded its waste capacity in 2002 and now produces large amounts of methane.

According to GHGSat, more than two tons of methane gas leaks from the site every hour in March every hour.

GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain said: “If sustained for one year, the methane leak from the landfill will have the same effect as the annual emissions from 350,000 US vehicles.”

Methane emissions are not the only hazards arising from landfills such as Bhalswa and Ghazipur. For decades, dangerous toxins have infiltrated the land, polluting the water supply for thousands of residents living nearby.

In May, CNN sent two accredited laboratories to test groundwater around the Bhalswa landfill. And according to the results, groundwater within at least 500 meters (1,600 feet) around the landfill is polluted.

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Groundwater samples from the Bhalswa landfill in northwestern Delhi.

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

The results from the second laboratory report showed that the levels of total solvent (TDS) – the amount of inorganic salts and water-soluble organic matter – found in one sample were almost 19 times the acceptable limit. Make it unsafe for human drinking.

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

According to Richa Singh from the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the TDS of water taken near Bhalswa ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 mg / l. “This water is not only unsuitable for drinking, but also unsuitable for skin contact,” she said. Also. “Therefore, it cannot be used for purposes such as bathing or cleaning utensils or cleaning clothes.”

Dr. Nitesh Rohatgi, senior director of oncology at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurugram, urged the government to study the health of the local population and compare it to other parts of the city. “We do not look back and regret that we have a higher cancer rate, higher health risks, higher health problems and we do not look Next and correct it in time.

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

“The water we get is dirty, but we have to save it without help and use it for washing dishes, bathing and sometimes drinking,” said Sonia Bibi, a resident with thick red feet.

Jwala Prashad, 87, who lives in a small hut on a narrow street near a landfill, said the rotting rubbish piles had turned his life “a living hell.”

“The water we use is pale red. My skin burns after a shower, ”he said as he tried to get rid of the redness on his face and neck.

“But I could not afford to leave this place.

Jwala Prashad, 87, pumps water in front of his house in Bhalswa Dairy.

More than 2,300 tons of municipal solid waste have arrived at Delhi’s largest landfill, according to a report released in July by a joint committee set up to find ways to reduce the number of fires at the site. In Ghazipur every day.

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That said, most of the waste from the surrounding area was only 300 tons, recycled and disposed of by other means. And less than 7% of the waste is mined, which involves mining, treatment and recycling of old waste.

The Delhi Municipal Corporation deploys drones every three months to monitor the size of the rubbish piles and is experimenting with ways to extract methane from the rubbish mountains, the report said.

But too much rubbish arrives every day to continue. The committee said biological mining was “slow and slow” and it was “unlikely” that the East Delhi corporation (now merged with the North and South Delhi corporations) would achieve its goal. Make the mountain of garbage flat “by 2024.

“There is no effective plan to reduce the height of the mountain,” the report said. In addition, the report added, “it should have been suggested for a long time that future dumping would contaminate the water system. Underground ”.

CNN sent a series of questions, along with data from the water test questionnaire, to the Indian Ministry of Environment and Health. There has been no response from the ministry yet.

In the 2019 report, the Indian government introduced ways to improve the country’s solid waste management, including the formalization of recycling and the installation of more composting plants in the country.

While some improvements have been made, such as better house-to-house garbage collection and recycling, 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 tons of garbage nationwide. Its three landfills.

“The problem is that Delhi does not have a concrete solid action plan,” said Singh from CSE. “So we are talking here about landfill repairs and waste treatment, but imagine fresh waste being generated on a regular basis. All these things are thrown away. “Every day in these dumps.”

“(So) say you are healing 1,000 tons of waste (waste) and then you are throwing away 2,000 tons of fresh waste every day, it will be a vicious cycle. It will be a never-ending process.

“Of course, heritage management is an obligation of the government and very important. But you just can’t get started without a replacement for fresh waste. So it is the biggest challenge. ”

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