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Out of sight, out of mind: The waste crisis in Ladakh

Waste poses a significant crisis in Ladakh, although it is not widely acknowledged. A major contributing factor to this issue is the lack of awareness among the public and leaders, preventing them from recognising the urgency of the situation. This blog succinctly outlines some key aspects of the current waste problem in Ladakh without getting into too much detail.

Open disposal of waste threatens the life of animals.
Open disposal of waste threatens the life of animals.

Waste generated in significantly large quantities

Waste generation in Ladakh is remarkably high compared to the size of its population, largely attributed to tourism. Official estimates indicate that waste production increases fourfold during the peak tourist season in the summer months, in stark contrast to the quieter winter months with fewer tourists. The military also contributes a substantial amount of waste. However, the quantities and disposal methods of their waste remain unknown. The local community and the seasonal migrant worker population also play significant roles in waste generation.


Municipal waste management faces numerous challenges

In urban areas of Leh and Kargil, waste management is overseen by the Municipal Committees. The quantity of waste collected through municipality's door-to-door collection service does not show the actual amount of waste generated. A considerable portion of waste is disposed of improperly by the public, polluting the environment. After recovering and selling valuable materials for revenue, the remaining bulk of municipal waste is dumped and burnt openly, incinerated, or buried in pits. The urban waste management system faces financial challenges due to insufficient revenue from the sale of reusable materials and the waste collection service fees.

Residual waste dumped and burned in open by urban waste management authorities next to SWM plant, Skampari, Leh.
Residual waste dumped and burned in open by urban waste management authorities next to SWM plant, Skampari, Leh.

Rural waste management still in its early stages

In rural areas, waste management is overseen by the Rural Development Department (RDD). Solid Resource Management Centres (SRMCs) have been established in over two dozen villages across Ladakh to collect and sort waste. However, there is no proper plan in place for challening the reusable materials, resulting in less material recovery and revenue generation. The residual waste is tackled by dumping, burning and burying in pits. Similar to urban areas, the rural waste management system is not financially self-sustained due to insufficient revenue from the sale of reusable materials and waste collection service fees. In villages without SRMCs, waste is dumped, burned and buried in pits in the vicinity of the village.


Residual waste dumped and burned in open by rural waste management authorities near SRMC plant, Nimoo.
Residual waste dumped and burned in open by rural waste management authorities near SRMC plant, Nimoo.

Public often disposes waste in unregulated ways

Despite the availability of waste collection services, a significant number of people still engage in improper waste disposal in both urban and rural areas. This includes burning, dumping in the outskirts, burying in pits, throwing it in water bodies, and littering. These practices indicate a low level of environmental awareness and consciousness among the public, highlighting the urgent need for extensive education and awareness.

Unregulated waste dumping near Alchi village, Leh District, Ladakh.
Construction and other types of wastes dumped by the public on the outskirts of Alchi.

Less community engagement in waste management

The primary responsibility for waste management lies with government bodies, who are often held accountable for any shortcomings in waste collection and cleanliness. This perception reflects a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of both the public and the government. Citizens should be actively engaged in waste management efforts, and authorities should actively promote and facilitate public involvement through various channels.


Waste not considered a resource

The local community generally perceives waste as something worthless and to be quickly disposed of. They are not aware of the environmental cost of goods, so they consume and discard more. Although this issue persists worldwide, it is noteworthy in the context of Ladakh. The traditional habits and practices of the locals, who live in one of the highest inhabitable places in the world, mirrored those of modern minimalists and zero-wasters. However, the influence of consumerism and materialism has now begun to affect Ladakh as well.

Glass waste discarded by the roadside, Phyang.
Glass waste discarded by the roadside, Phyang.

Conclusion

The waste crisis in Ladakh has arisen from a combination of factors that require an integrated approach to address. This involves taking action on multiple fronts, including raising environmental awareness, reducing waste, and promoting resource reuse. All stakeholders, including local administration, the tourism sector, educational institutions, organisations, producers, the scientific community, the army, and the public, share equal responsibility and must come together to solve the waste problem. It's crucial for each stakeholder to understand their roles and responsibilities in managing waste and preserving the fragile environment of Ladakh.

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1 Comment


Wonderfully explained the state of affairs in Ladakh. Voluntery survive may not suffice, some responsibility should be fixed on concerned departments.

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