Waste Management in the Chin Capital: An Urgent Challenge for Municipalities and Citizens

Salai Van Bawi Mang summarizes the challenges for adequate waste management in Chin State.

Waste management is a complex task and involves various stakeholders. Indeed, waste management requires considering the effectiveness of environmental, economically affordable, and socially acceptable solutions. Waste management and disposal are not only the responsibility of the government, but every citizen also has the duty to dispose waste systematically. The current attempt of the Hakha Town Plan, intiated in 2016, lacks a systematic management approach to waste problems. This would include a public awareness program regarding waste and its management, and the control, collection, transportation, processing, and disposal of waste in line with the principles of public health, economics, conservation, and other environmental considerations.

Hakha Waste Management System

According to Chin State’s General Administration Department (GAD) , the Hakha City population has increased from 21,068 in 2017 to 30,000 in two years, with 4,958 households in a total of eight wards. To this day, the city municipal service can only collect waste for six of the eight wards. The waste collection department has only 12 staff and four trucks, but two of those trucks have not been operational to this day. The Hakha municipal department has set up four public dumpsites, requiring everyone to throw their solid household waste in these designated places. If not adhered to, those throwing waste elsewhere are due to be fined 20,000 kyats. The four dumpsites are not proper landfills, but just haphazard areas next to the roadside. Among these four places, two— New Hakha Side and Cawbuk Ward along the Matupi Highway Road— are mostly used by both municipal staff (waste collectors) and the general public. The other two are not used very much because of their distance from the city. As the management of solid waste has huge implications for the future, the social and environmental sectors must be concerned, including infectious diseases, human health, and sanitation, land and water pollution, obstruction of drains, and loss of biodiversity. However, it seems the decision to select these four places was only based on how far the garbage is located from the city rather than with regard to environmental and public health issues.

The Cawbuk dumpsite is the most used among the four dumpsites, holding mountains of trash. This dumpsite is located in a ravine connected to a small stream that flows to the Nawi Small River. Nawi has been used for drinking water, as a site for fresh-water fisheries, for paddy fields and as a public space for campaigns and other social activities. The Nawi flows to the Timit River, which supplies drinking water for the Hakha people as well as for irrigation. In many ways, the Timit can be seen as the main water source for the Chin people who live in Hakha and Thangtlang townships because it flows through the entire territories of the Zophei, Zotung, Lautu, Mara and Senthang (ZZLMS) tribal areas. When the Timit river reaches the territory of these ZZLMS tribal groups, it is called the Bawinu River. These ZZLMS tribes represent approximately 60% of the population in these two townships.

The new Hakha dumpsite, in addition to the Cawbuk dumpsite, is also a concern not only for the people of Hakha but also for ZZLMS tribe groups who exclusively depend on the Bawinu River, which is downstream of the Timit and its resources. Among many major issues is the fact that this location holds roads to the paddy fields, and for farming and livestock (cow, goat, horse, and buffalo) by the local community. For the local people, livestock is a very important source of income, cultivation for their paddy fields and transportation. Therefore, this location is of concern for both public health and livelihood issues, as they relate to the future of the local people.

One person interviewed from the New Hakha dumpsite describes the impact of unorganized and ineffective management of solid waste:

“Since the municipality set up this area as a dump-site, we have lost our livestock gradually because they (municipal officials) throw the waste without sorting and organizing so that our animals eat a lot of plastic. Animals eat everything in front of them, whatever it is, because they do not know what is toxic for them.”

In general, these two dumpsites are situated in the main water sources for the local people who truly depend on the river and its resources.  The locations are also quite close to the main road, meaning the dumpsite is an eyesore for the local people, and smells bad.

According to local experts and town developers’ estimations, the total population of Hakha might reach a hundred thousand (100,000) in 2030, meaning that sustainable waste management should be a special consideration in town development. This includes avoiding high risk locations. The present situation is not sustainable for the current population growth estimates. The problem needs to be addressed.

Hakha Municipal Solid Waste Management Committee / Governance

Clearly, the national governments do not take any responsibility for local level, city waste management issues. Instead, the respective townships and city development committees take the role of overseeing wastes management issues, including financing, planning and municipal services. At present, under the Chin State government, the municipal department concerning waste management has still not established its own laws and procedures to address the challenges of solid waste management. The department’s project cycle management has not worked properly due to the financial situation, lack of technical and resource capacity.

According to Pu Thla Hre, former Chin State Municipal Department Director, the revenue for waste management is very low, and it is generated through general taxes and the collection of fees for waste disposal services. For example, users pay 200 kyats for waste pick-up services but this is not fixed and depends on the garbage size and amount of waste. Since the revenue collected is very low, the government cannot properly manage the total expenditures associated with waste management, including the cost of petrol, workers and other expenses. They cannot provide adequate services for the public, and in return, the public are not satisfied with the money paid for the services. The public believes that the municipal department only serves because of their obliged duty, rather than to develop the town systematically. As a result, the committee fails to achieve the trust and support of the public.

According to Pu Sui Thio, the Chin State’s Minister of Transportation, there is an overall lack of technical capacity:

“It is very clear that they cannot handle even their duties and they do not know how to develop and manage the city. As municipal staff, they should have checked what are the needs of the city and what should be implemented. But they are not like that.”

Additionally, public participation in waste management is still limited due to a lack of awareness on the issue.

One local NGO has been trying to tackle this problem. The Community Care for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation (CCERR) has been working on collecting plastic wastes and raising awareness on environmental issues in the city. They provide services for collecting public waste on the main road and for big events like Chin National Day and International Environmental Day. Sometimes youth volunteer groups and university students also participate in collecting the city’s waste. Public and civil society participation is rarely seen in waste management activities in Hakha, the capital city of Chin State. 

“We cannot provide the service of collecting public wastes, however we buy the used plastics for recycling. As for civil society participation in waste management, it is really weak,’’ says Flora Bawi Nei Mawi, the coordinator of CCERR.

Futile efforts to prohibit dumping waste with “Do not throw any trash here” signs without further information or discussion, simply result in the public continuing to throw away their solid waste in the prohibited area at nighttime.

After asking over 30 Hakha residents from different wards respectively about 1) whether they know of the dumpsites where the city’s waste is thrown, and 2) whether there is any separation of hazardous waste and solid or recyclable wastes, none of the respondents knew where the dumpsites were and had never even heard about hazardous waste. Furthermore, the residents did not even know that waste itself can be recycled. Education on the “3Rs” (reduce, reuse, recycle) needs to be initiated. In terms of medical wastes (including disposal of hospital waste and pharmaceutical products) there is a basic awareness amongst health workers, but not the general public. Only a few people are aware that, according to the formal procedure (hospital and immunization waste management), the disposal of syringes, needles, outdated drugs and expired or leftover medical solvents must be burned or buried underground in landfills.

“One thing I really worry about is that people are throwing hypodermic needles with all the other wastes into the municipal trash collection. It is really dangerous for us’’ stated one of my respondents from Dinlo ward raised his concerns on throwing wastes unsystematically.

How to Move Forward?

A long-term vision should be created for waste management, considering the high risks for our health and the environment. Both the State and Union governments should create a platform where civil society and the public can participate in addressing waste problems, including reviewing current waste collection systems, revenue collection, and choosing dumpsites or landfills.

In the short term, the Chin government, especially Hakha municipality, should immediately stop using the current dumpsites positioned next to small streams and proceed with an alternative solution to dig a trench or landfill, or find ways to take into account for the environmental impacts and to safeguard against them. A capacity-building agenda should be initiated. Building staff capacity, human and financial resources of township development committees are urgently needed, as well as the technical support and cooperation necessary in order to provide waste management services, including waste collection and public awareness, adequately and effectively.

Finally, a comprehensive public awareness program is urgently required to promote awareness on increasing environmental issues and educate the public to engage in city development. The ultimate effect may be that the government program of addressing waste problem could be implemented more smoothly, and move more quickly towards effective management and the provision of adequate public services.

(Image courtesy of Salai Van Bawi Mang)

Salai Van Bawi Mang is currently doing a M.A in Social Sciences (Development Studies) at Chiang Mai University, and is originally from Chin State, Myanmar. He is a co-founder of Victoria Academy, which focuses on community development. He has been working on Burma’s democratic transition in terms of promoting human rights, democracy and freedom of expression, federalism, and peace. He also volunteers with several organizations in Chin State, including The Chinland Post (Fidi Foundation), Chin Center for Peace and Reconciliation, Chinbridge Institute and Chin Human Rights Organization.