Lauded by UN & NGOs, the 'Venice of East' Alappuzha stinks.
IANS Alappuzha (Kerala) Standing atop a wall, 37-year-old Sabu
Vijayan, an Alappuzha municipality sanitation worker, was singing as he
used a long metal pipe to break a thick layer of waste floating on the
two-metre-wide canal below him. The greenish-black water of the canal
was hidden beneath the layer of plastic bottles and plastic bags filled
with waste -- a small green plant with three leaves had grown over it.
"It (canal) smells like human excreta,"said Saviamma, 65,
pointing to the YMCA branch canal flowing in front of her house. The
United Nations had three months back selected Alappuzha, a coastal town
in central Kerala, as one of five cities in the world whose waste
management efforts were commendable. The UN report which selected the
city read:"A few years ago, roadsides and canals (were) filled with
stinking garbage... exposing residents and visitors alike to clouds of
flies and disease-spreading mosquitoes. Since then, the city in the
eastern state of Kerala... has addressed the problem by introducing a
decentralised waste management system." As Vijayan broke the layer
of waste on top of the water to unclog the canal, swamps of mosquitoes
flew up before settling down again in Shadamani canal -- one of the 104
branch canals -- in Alappuzha, also known as Venice of the East. Vijayan
and others came to unclog the canal after frantic phone calls by
residents. "Snuggies (diapers) are a problem. They get soaked in
water and become heavy and difficult to remove,"Vijayan said about
the canals."Even sewerage from toilets falls into the canals."
Canals in six different locations in the city had a similar story to
tell. They are filled with garbage or weeds, becoming breeding grounds
for mosquitoes. In two cases there was no water, only waste and silt.
While residents accused the authorities of not cleaning the canals,
officials complained of meagre funds and people's habit of dumping
garbage into the canals for their sorry state. Alappuzha was selected as
one of the five cities in a report titled"Solid approach to waste:
How 5 cities are beating pollution"and it was put up on UN
Environment's website, under the"News and
Stories"category. When asked about finding the state of canals
different from its report, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
India Head, Atul Bagai, told IANS that the UN did not select Alappuzha
as one of the five best cities globally for waste management, but the
list was"just a selection of five cities following good practices
around the world". He said the UN does"not validate
information and only highlights best practices", adding that the
information was from"reliable sources". Asked whether UNEP
visited Alappuzha before making the selection, Bagai said that he
was"not sure", explaining that"we generally do not work
on the ground". The organisation, he said, did advocacy work and
sensitises people. In a written response, the UNEP office said:"In
the case of Alappuzha, it was recognised in 2016 by the Centre for
Science and Environment with an award for being among the country's
cleanest cities. The information in our article is a summary of the
basis on which the CSE award was given." The Chairman of the
Alappuzha Municipality Standing Committee for Health, B. Mehboob, told
IANS that crores of rupees were needed to clean the canals properly and
the currently available funds were nowhere close to what is required.
"Only temporary works can be done with this money,"he
said."All waste from beneath has to be taken out for proper flow of
the canals and this requires huge sums of money. With meagre funds,
it's not possible,"Mehboob said.
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