Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 9, Part 2
"Other activities also affect the land", Filo continued. "For example, shrimp farms that have cropped up along the coasts all over the world have serious affected the environment around them. High salinity in the shrimp ponds has affected the fertility of the land. Highly toxic chemicals used in shrimp farming have leached into the water table around the pond. While the life of a shrimp pond is two to four years, the damages last through decades."
Filo and Damini had reached the outskirts of a small settlement. The settlement had a hundred or so hovels made of rags, tin foils, plastic sheets and secured by wires and ropes. "This land", Filo continued, "was not in a high rainfall region. Yet, there was enough water in underground and with the few centimeters of rain it received, we could raise one crop a year. But such malpractices have resulted in transformation of a productive land to an arid desert. Come, I will introduce you to people most affected by this."
The settlement sprawled out in front of them. To their right, there was a huge mountain of garbage. A dark smoke rose from some of those hills and a pungent smell filled the air. There were hills of metals, of plastics, of broken down cars and trashed television sets. Even further on the right, a large hole had been opened up on the surface of the earth and garbage was being dumped there. There were batteries and lamps and other unidentifiable junk. As they approached the settlement some children wearing rags, a little younger than Damini, played with a torn ball. Farther away, on the left, where the settlement almost ended, some men sat under a flimsy plastic sheet propped up on metal rods, drinking something in metal mugs. Filo turned and walked towards those men. One of the men noticed Filo and Damini walking towards them and waved. Filo waved back.
Filo went up and sat down with the group. Damini sat down next to him. Someone thrust a couple of mugs in their direction. Filo took one and nodded to Damini that she may take the other. The mugs were filled with a sweet smelling thick brown steaming liquid. Filo seemed to relish the drink. Damini tentatively sipped the liquid. It was a sweet and sour drink that made Damini's mouth pucker. But she enjoyed it. The others were done drinking and waited quietly till the guests had finished theirs. Filo finished his with a large gulp, made a face on tasting the extremely sour residue at the bottom and then handed the mug back. The group laughed. "So how are you my friends", Filo asked.
"Good that you could come Filo", one of the younger men in the group said. They have dropped some new stuff in large drums in that site today. It has some strange markings. We told the children not to go down till you came around and took a look at it."
"That's good", Filo replied. "Let us go and take a look at it. But first let me introduce you to Damini. She is my niece who is visiting us and I thought I would bring her along. Damini, these are people from the Bishko tribe - a tribe known for its love and care for nature. But this is how they have to live today." The group smiled and nodded at Damini and she smiled back. Filo quickly stood up and with Damini on his side, began to walk towards the large excavation on the right of the settlement. The others in the group followed Filo. They walked through the settlement, between houses. Men and women were occupied in cleaning in front of their houses, in cooking and in playing with children. They looked up and some waved to Filo as the group walked by. The hovels soon ended and the path winded behind the mounds of trash. At the end of the mounds, a large hole opened up. On the far end, there were piles of batteries that had been trashed and broken lamps and refrigerators. But what caught Filo's attention were six or seven drums that had been thrown a few meters away from where they stood at the rim of the hole. Two of the drums leaked and one could see a dark liquid oozing out of them. The drums were black and there were faded signs saying radioactive materials inside. Even Damini could decipher those signs.
She looked up at Filo. His face had turned red in anger. This was clearly criminal. How could any one have dumped radioactive waste in an open site? The others sensed Filo's anger. "What is that Filo?", one of the men asked. "Radioactive waste - the most dangerous kind of waste", Filo replied without turning back. "It will cause various kinds of cancers and tumors in people exposed to it. The effects will carry over as mutations in the generations yet unborn. Communities exposed to such wastes have had very high incidences of still born babies as well as children with unusual numbers of fingers, eyes, with abnormal growth rates, and high incidence of tumors in children." He stood staring at the space ahead.
Turning around, he looked at the men and said, "make sure that no one gets into that pit. No children no adults, no body goes their to salvage anything any more. Also, do not use the well on this side of the settlement. For now, use the bore that is on the other side. We may not be able to use that well in a few days. But it should be all right for now."
"Where did such waste come from, Filo", someone asked.
"It is the waste that comes out of the nuclear energy plant that is about hundred miles south of here", Filo replied.
"What is the rest of the stuff and why is it dumped here?", Damini asked.
"Every week, trucks from the city near by come here and dump the waste that is generated within the city. The waste consists of old furniture, organic waste like food, discarded electronic appliances, batteries, etc. The electronic appliances and batteries have many toxic components. Over time, chemicals leak from these appliances and then get into the soil. That is exactly what will happen with the radioactive waste as well. Once it gets into the water table, it will enter our food system through the vegetation and our water."
"Is that how all waste is disposed off?", Damini asked with an embarrassed tone of someone who does not know something that she should.
"No, Damini", one of the other men replied. "Since there is a lot of unused land here, this city comes and dumps its waste in this region. Holes are dug in the ground, some sheets that slow down leaching of chemicals are spread out and waste is dumped. Once the hole has been filled, it is covered with earth and then another hole is excavated. These are called landfills. But in other cities where there is not as much unused space in the proximity, the waste is burnt. Some scientists claim that you can create energy by burning the waste but that is not true. This is called waste to energy technology and some even tout it as a green technology while it is highly polluting. It takes a lot of energy to burn the waste itself. Besides, the burning of waste causes the emission of very toxic gases. One such gas is dioxin. It is the most toxic gas known and causes cancer. One small canister of dioxin, released in a large enclosed stadium, would make the air in the stadium too toxic for humans. Others dump their waste in the ocean thereby polluting the ocean. Once upon a time we thought that nothing could dirty the oceans but now we are beginning to see the effects of pollution there as well. Numerous animals are dying. Fish are beginning to carry mercury and when we eat them, it affects us as well."
"Why have I not seen such landfill sites? Why have I not seen the places where they burn the waste?", Damini asked incredulously.
Some of the men laughed. Filo answered with a serious look, "Dumping wastes would bring down the cost of the land where the waste is dumped. Consequently, the waste will get dumped in that part of the city where the cost of dumping is least. Thus, town planners would not dump it in areas where the rich or well to do communities live. They dump in areas where the poor in the community live. So most well to do communities never see the impact of the waste you produce. Similarly, the factories that burn the waste are also located in the poorer parts of the town. In fact, rich nations have dumped their waste in the back yards of poorer countries. Thus, it is the poorer communities that are most affected by waste disposal."
Filo's answer unnerved Damini. "But who is responsible for creation of the waste?", Damini asked.
"That is a very appropriate question", Filo replied. "Why don't you think this through? You see in front of you a whole landscape of trash. What do you see makes up the trash?" Damini surveyed the mounds of trash. "A whole of discarded electronics", she said eyeing television sets, monitors, broken down refrigerators and music systems. "Broken furniture, batteries and glass and a whole lot of broken concrete and building materials. And more plastic."
"Clearly", Filo said, "there are certain groups of people, certain communities of humans, who use such products more than others. That should give you an idea of who is responsible for creation of most of this trash. In addition to what you see, manufacture of these materials creates even more pollutants. That too gets dumped."
"It is ironic", Damini said with a sigh, "those who are most affected by the trash have least to do with its creation. On the other hand, those who are most responsible for the trash are least affected by it. I am sure that if we were able to see the effect of the waste we produce, we would be more careful", Damini said. "But if we cannot burn the waste we generate, nor hide it under the ground or in water, what can we do?"
"Well, we can certainly reduce creating waste", one of the Bishko men replied. "Have you not heard of reduce, reuse, recycle?", another quizzed Damini. Damini looked at him puzzled.
"It means that we should reduce the amount a stuff we consume", Filo explained. "The more we use, the more waste is created. For example, if we buy ten shirts, then ten shirts will get into the trash can some day. If we buy a new computer every year, then that many computers will have to be trashed someday. It also means that more computers need to be made to meet the demand. Making computers results in generation of large amounts of pollutants. More pollutants are thus created. In addition, every time we buy something, the store packs it in plastic and paper for us. We get home and throw the packing in the trash. The first way to reduce waste is to reduce consumption."
"The second way to reduce waste", one of the Bishko men continued, "is to reuse. One should reuse all products till they cannot be used any more. For example, do not throw paper printed on one side. Use the second side before discarding it. Similarly, do not throw away clothes that do not fit you any more. Give it to someone who can use it. Use bottles to store things in your cabinets. Do not throw a computer just because you fancy a newer one. At least give it to someone else who needs one. Do not throw away any thing that still can function. That is also an important way to reduce waste."
"The third way to reduce waste", Filo continued, "is to recycle what can be recycled. In fact remember to preferably use products that can be recycled rather than those that cannot. Similarly, prefer to use products that are less harmful to the environment. If you have to use cans, recycle them after use. Recycle paper. Be aware of plastics that can be recycled and those that cannot."
"Stop lecturing the poor girl, you men!", a feminine voice spoke from behind her. The group turned around to see a middle aged woman walking up to them. "Hello Bisakha", Filo said, smiling at the woman. "All you men know is to lecture", she said, teasing the men. "Come girl, come with me. These men can find another person to preach to." Then turning to Filo she said, "Come by when you are ready to leave." With her hand on Damini's shoulder, the woman walked back towards the settlement, leaving the men to discuss their problems at the rim of the landfill.