The following is a paper read and circulated by the CEO of Gul Bahao, Nargis Latif among the 400 participants of a South Asian Conference on Sanitation held in Kathmandu recently.
Case for Internationalizing Pakistan’s First Research Centre on Waste management
The port city of Karachi having 20 million souls is the 6th most populated metropolis of the world generating more than 12,000 tons of garbage in a single day. In addition its economic wealth at this point in time (which is seeing rapid industrialization) makes it an ideal case study in waste management. What is more an organization by the name of Gul Bahao, an environment based organization during a period of 20 years and a budget of more than $90,000 has succeeded in covering several aspects of waste management from small extremely simple but highly effective products like mobile toilets to a most sophisticated futuristic concept like the Garbage n Gold Bank, it has dwelt into multiple dimensions of waste management. A massive campaign called “You give us garbage, we give you Gold” was conducted for more than 2 years which inter alia invited people especially the vibrant cottage industry and the informal economy to separate garbage at source.
The philosophy of Gul Bahao (literally meaning Flow flowers) is that there is a close nexus between environment and the economy. That garbage is in fact raw material for both industry and agriculture. At Gul Bahao Centre, research on both macro and micro level is been conducted.
The world over waste material is being used creatively but more for decoration purposes. Plastic packing material forms a bulk of inorganic waste. Then furniture is being made from packing material. The world famous “Silver block” a modular block designed at the Centre and used alternately as swimming pool, a two storied house etc. The raw material used is plastic waste which is otherwise burnt in the streets of Karachi causing toxic fumes and severe air pollution. The usefulness of these recycled products ensures that their raw material will not be mixed up with other kinds of organic waste.
At the centre the researched products are commercially viable products like cattle feed, Instant Compost Fuel Packets (Look at the attached pamphlet). As a result of Gul Bahao’s persistence in advocating recycling of gutter water two important steps were taken by the government of the day. One of these was a ban on using fresh water in lawns and encouraging use of gutter water in horticulture so that fresh water is not polluted by sewage water. This lead to a healthy growth of nurseries using gutter water. Secondly during the time of sacrifices of animals the offal’s and other organic waste used to be lying around for days in the streets. But a proposal from the Research Centre to the local bodies to bury en-mass the entrails and other filth of the dead animals lead to a complete change in the situation.
Thousands of people consisting of University students, NGOs, government officials and school going children as well as the media have visited the Research Centre. Its website is very mush visited and even used for writing theses by research students. It is located in one of the most developed areas of the metropolis, right on the main road.
We are all conscious of the fact that environment degradation cannot be allowed to go unchecked. On the other hand to say that industrialization and development must be stopped because of environmental pollution they create is not a workable solution. The answer lies in conducting research with different kinds of materials being thrown up by industry and human life. Attempts in this direction have been extremely fruitful. Not only have they helped in controlling pollution and unsanitary conditions they have led to innovations of great use to people.
The time has now come for the world community to avail the fruits of this research facility located in the metropolis of Karachi. The Gul Bahao Research Centre has been there for the last twenty years and can be linked up with other organizations the world over through internet facilities as well as through visits. What is important is financial help to keep it sustainable. Waste management is a very challenging subject. At this point, I appeal to organizations all over the world to chip in and help sustain this facility, with the aim of helping to control environmental degradation.
Yesterday, Gul Bahao’s Nargis Latif delivered a lecture on the need for scientific research at an assembly of 500 (five hundred) “A” level students at the City School PAF chapter. Amidst burst of applause Nargis recalled how James Watt (the inventor of the steam engine) and the Wright brothers who invented the airplane who were teenagers like themselves were harbingers of the industrial revolution.
Nargis said that research is not a status symbol and should not be considered synonymous with impressive degrees, sophisticated laboratories and plenty of money. On the contrary giving the example of Gul Bahao she said that its innovations have been conducted in slum areas using waste and therefore inexpensive. However, she quickly recalled that she herself having a masters degree from Karachi university has been using her academic knowledge while working for Gul Bahao.
Exhorting the students to go into research in Environmental work Nargis said, Waste management is a very exciting field as it encompasses the entire industrial and metropolitan life. There is so much to pick and choose from. She revealed that Nadir Choudhry an ex student of the City school holding a masters in Computer Science and presently working in Sweden is running Gul Bahao’s website. According to her hundreds of people are regularly visiting this website. Many college and university students and research workers are taking help from it for their projects and theses etc.
The founder of Gul Bahao said that Gul Bahao has a long standing relationship with Karachi’s educational institutions. Many schools and universities are source of Gul Bahaos funding through providing recyclable waste free of cost. Some of the schools have even asked their students to bring their waste material from their homes.
Nargis listed the following immediate goals of Gul Bahao:
- Putting up Pakistan’s first Research Centre on Waste Management
- Providing cheap housing through its innovation of Chandi Ghar.
Concluding, Nargis said that after spending more than 80 million rupees and seventeen years on its research work , Gul Bahao is poised to help the country get out of its socioeconomic morass. Comparing the work of Gul Bahao with that of the innovator James Watt, the innovator, she said that Gul Bahao has laid the foundation for a technological revolution in Pakistan.
Yesterday, a thirty six member delegation of NED students came on a study tour of Gul Bahaos Research Centre located in Gushan-e-Iqbal. This centre is the first of its kind in the whole of Pakistan and has attracted hundreds of people from different walks of life especially NGO workers, representatives of local bodies, students, architects and journalists and even foreigners. The organisation claims that being public oriented its doors are open to all and sundry. The staff of Gul Bahao took pains to explain all the six innovations right from Paaki Paani, Chandi Ghar Safai /Kamai Bank, Fuel pack to the latest innovation, Choora Chaara (cattle feed ) etc. Nargis Latif, the CEO of Gul Bahao said that these innovations were not created in a single day but took almost 15 years. Each innovation being unique, took place separately and evolved after several trials and experimentation. What is more she said they have been tried and tested, some even marketed. To a question how the cattle responded to the Choora Chaara, Gul Bahao’s manager Habibullah responded that the cattle feed has been fed to a number of cattle (owned by the workers of Gul Bahao) who eat it just like the conventional feed . The CEO of Gul Bahao said that the importance of the Gul Bahao’s Research Centre lies in its being a part and parcel of a real life situation, being located right in the midst of a thickly populated area. The participants, being students of engineering evinced keen interest in the fuel pak, a very inexpensive alternate fuel made from waste material and which Gul Bahao claims can be used for running power plants. Describing the condition of research in the country as “tragic”. Nargis said that even those who raise a hue and cry about the lack of science and scientific spirit in the country are not willing to consider informal and original ways of conducting research and improvising as is continually being done in the cottage industries and the informal sector. Nargis claimed that each and every innovation of Gul Bahao has the potential to change the entire socioeconomic condition of the country. She informed the participants that the Sindh Government has directed its departments to give away their waste paper to Gul bahao as revenue for its research work. Pointing to the area adjoining the Research Centre Nargis said that the area spread over several acres and housing hundred of jhuggi wallas would be used for the practical implementation of Gul Bahao’s research program.
Yesterday Gul Bahao’s Research Center was formally inaugurated by the Sindh Assembly Speaker Mr. Nisar Ahmed Khoro. This is part of the Gul Bahao’s Complex located on a two thousand sq.yards plot on main Rashid Minhas Road. A crowd of more than three hundred people welcomed the Speaker on his arrival. The atmosphere was that of a mela with music blaring away and people coming in and looking at the different exhibits of the NGO. Amongst them were:
- The FUEL PACK – block containing inflammable waste material which it was said could be a cheap substitute for running thermal power plants.
- CHOORA CHARA – packets containing dry fodder for live stock.
- A MOBILE TOILET for females.
- PAKI PANI – a simple water purifying method.
However the biggest crowd puller was the CHANDI GHAR. This as well as the Hall used for the occasion were made of pre-fabricated material, innovated by Gul Bahao.
A major event of the occasion was the public meeting addressed by the leaders of the civil society. Nargis Latif pointed to the banner placed behind the dais which read “Karachi’s gift to the world”. She said we have been following the rest of the world specially the West for a long time. She said Gul Bahao for the last fifteen years tried to reverse the trend. It is only today that it has succeeded in attracting the attention of the Government. Nargis lamented that though the NGO has spent not less than four crore rupees on its research activities during the last ten years it received only Rs. 15000/- from the previous Government.
The Speaker of the Sindh Assembly Mr. Nisar Khoro described Gul Bahao’s Chandi Ghar as a “modern Juggi”. He said that a cemented house has become unaffordable for the poorest of the poor but now at least they will be able to give a dwelling safe from the elements for as little as 7-8 thousands rupees, the cost of a Chandi Ghar. The Speaker referred to Nargis Latif as a “jununi” or mad. He said only a person with deep commitment could take up the monumental task of doing what she is doing. Other speakers included Mr. Ashraf Nawaz of Pakistan Help Line, Mr. Habibuddin Junaidi, a well known leader of Pakistan Peoples Party and a number of leaders from the Seraiki Community. The Hall kept reverberating with slogans in favour of Peoples Party.