Covid-19 pandemic has grappled the world. Although the world has witnessed many pandemics before, Covid-19 has changed us and our surroundings in every possible way. Most importantly, this pandemic has taught us to keep ourselves healthy and hygienic more than ever. We have to sanitize and wash our hands, maintain social distance and wear masks to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. Sanitizing means keeping ourselves clean and hygienic, which is nothing unusual. Initially, the people were conscious and took measures to fight Covid-19. However, the Covid-19 cases have increased exponentially in Ladakh and across the globe. Does that mean that the people not doing enough to keep themselves and others protected?
The virgin landscapes of Ladakh have witnessed overexploitation by the footfall of the tourists, especially the generation of waste, in the past few decades. We have been blaming the tourists for this problem. However, we saw heaps of waste in 2020 despite the absence of tourists in Ladakh due to the nationwide lockdown.
Even when the administration advised the people to stay indoors, many went out for picnics with friends and families and littered picnic spots near the riverside.
People are throwing garbage openly on unused lands. The spot near Dewachan, Mahabodhi, is one such example. Disposal of waste in landfills is not suitable for a region like Ladakh.
Phunsok Angmo, a thematic expert on solid waste management (SWM), who wrote a detailed strategy plan (DSP) for the EU-Liveable Leh project, is focused on the quantum of waste generated due to Covid-19. According to Phunsok, domestic hazardous waste like gloves, masks, PPE kits, face shields, and sanitizer bottles add to the waste in Ladakh. Bio-medical waste, including face masks, PPE kits, gloves, and testing kits (both rapid and RTPC), are also produced. There are numerous challenges in the disposal of waste, and these wastes eventually end up in the landfill at Bomb Garh.
Such methods of disposal of waste impact the sanitation workers and the people.
The Municipal Committee Leh and the urban local body are making efforts to maintain the town's hygiene using traditional and scientific methods. The local administration came across Tesla Blackhole, a plasmic decomposition laser-based technology, in 2018. The machine works without electricity and fuel and turns waste into ash, except glass. The ash is used to fertile the soil and construction of roads. The Blackhole is a sustainable way for waste management.
Anub Tsetan Paljor, a member of the Water and Sanitation (Watsan) team of the EU-Liveable Leh project, said: "The administrative bodies in Leh are serious about the hygiene of Ladakh. With the new surge in Cobid-19 cases over the last couple of weeks, it seems like the second wave is hitting. So, everyone is alarmed. The public in Leh is seriously following Covid Appropriate Behaviour such as using a face mask and maintaining social distance. It depends on each individual whether to follow basic hygiene practices like washing hands. This year has taught us a lot about how even the simplest of acts like washing hands can help reduce the chances of contacting Covid-19. People are unable to maintain social distancing. No matter how much we try, we end up going to a restaurant or café or maybe the market these days, where we fail to maintain social distancing. The administration should look into partial lockdown like night curfews of the Covid-19 cases continue to increase.”
Anub stressed that there are sections of the population more vulnerable than others to Covid-19. These are the healthcare workers, police personnel and emergency workers. Then there are sanitation workers who clean, collect and dispose of garbage (solid waste, liquid waste, biohazardous, etc.) of the entire town. Such frontline workers are the most exposed and need all possible means to protect themselves. The cleanliness of Leh town depends upon them.
The absence of dustbins at places like the traffic police chowk at Skalzangling and the Skara-Shenam road compels many people to litter the roadside. The timing of the MC Leh garbage truck is another big challenge.
These are tough times and need the support of each other to live a healthy and hygienic life.