Medical waste piles up as MCDs short of hands
In many neighbourhoods where Covid-19 positive patients are in home isolation, daily biomedical waste is not happening, residents say. In other areas, waste is being collected every three to four days.Updated: Jul 01, 2020 01:35 IST
As more and more Covid-19 patients are being put in home isolation, daily collection of biomedical waste from their houses is proving to be a big challenge for the already short-staffed municipalities.
In many neighbourhoods where Covid-19 positive patients are in home isolation, daily biomedical waste is not happening, residents say. In other areas, waste is being collected every three to four days.
Delhi has at present 17,148 people in home isolation, out of the total 27,847 active cases.The city on Tuesday recorded 2,199 cases, taking the total to 87,360. Sixty-two deaths were reported on Tuesday, taking the total count to 2,742.
Surya Pratap Singh, a resident of north Delhi’s Rohini who tested positive eight days ago, and is in home isolation till July 1, said waste is being picked up from his house every alternate day.
“First, I tested positive, then my wife and mother was infected. All of us are in home isolation. The daily waste generation is so much that it needs to be collected every day. There have been days when we keep the waste bag outside our house for collection in the given time but it just stays there. We have to put it back inside because neighbours start complaining,” Singh said.
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines for the management of Covid-19 biomedical waste says refuse from patients’ houses must be collected daily, in colour-coded and sealed bags, to prevent any spread of infection. Household biomedical waste has to be put in yellow bags.
Municipalities said that with an “exponential” increase in the number of home isolation cases and with limited staff and resources, it is becoming difficult for sanitation workers to cover all the houses of infected people in their areas.
Jai Prakash, North Delhi mayor, admitted the municipalities were not being able to collect garbage every day. He, however, assured that the north corporation plans to rope in more people in the coming weeks to collect and handle biomedical waste from houses.
Workers are likely to be outsourced, though no plan has been finalised yet.
“The generation of biomedical has increased exponentially. For instance, if we were collecting biomedical waste from 40 households earlier, now we have to collect waste from 400 houses. We are trying to get more people on the workforce for collecting waste from positive houses. Meanwhile, if we receive any complaint of garbage not being picked up on our control room helpline, we immediately send our team for collection,” Jai Prakash said.
The MCD’s control room helplines are 155304/18002008701/1800118700/1266.
A senior official of the East Delhi municipal corporation (EDMC) explained that because of the shortage of sanitation workers, the civic agency has dedicated only a part of its team to focus on home isolation waste. For instance, if an area has a team of 20 sanitation workers, only 10 are dedicated to biomedical waste collection, while others focus on the rest of the city. This is putting more stress on these people.
The three municipalities--north, south and east-- engage around 71,345 sanitation workers. The north corporation has 31,332 workers with a shortfall of nearly 10-12%, EDMC has 15,023 but needs 15-20% more staff, while there are 25,000 sanitation workers with SDMC, a shortage of nearly 5% employees.
“We cannot risk putting our entire workforce for the management of biomedical waste; we will need a backup team, especially because infections are rising at such a high rate. With limited staff, it becomes difficult to cover all houses every day,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Neel Kanth, general secretary of DDA Flats in Dwarka sector-14, said three houses in their colony are marked for home isolation but municipal workers only stand at the gate and do not collect waste from each of these houses.
“Ours is a gated colony and taking advantage of that, the collectors stand outside instead of going door to door. The colony’s private waste collector wears safety gear, picks up the bags and hands it over to the workers,” Kanth said.
A resident of east Delhi’s Mayur Vihar phase-I, pocket-2, who did not wish to be identified, said his father tested positive on June 24 but sanitation workers collected waste from their house only twice. He said keeping bags of biomedical waste inside the house with other healthy members was a matter of great risk.
The health agencies have been very cooperative but handing over of waste is definitely an issue. We had raised this issue with the health official who calls every day to enquire about my father’s condition and they said the issue will be raised with the departments concerned,” he said.
In some localities, RWAs are taking it upon themselves to coordinate with sanitation teams and ensure garbage is collected every day. A residents’ group in Shiv Vihar said they coordinate with municipal agencies and Delhi government dispensaries to ensure waste is collected daily and all home isolation rules are followed.
“Since the same team is assigned for this locality, we coordinate with them every morning and make sure bags with biomedical waste from the marked houses are kept outside so that none of the parties is inconvenienced,” said Prashant Tiwari, member of the Shiv Vihar residents’ group.
Swati Sambyal, a Delhi-based solid waste management expert, said the problem of waste management has become more severe with the pandemic and will only get worse as cases increase. “The cities practising a dentralised system of waste management are doing fairly well with garbage management after Covid. But Delhi was struggling with concepts of segregation and waste management even before the pandemic and the disease put more stress on the system and on the sanitation workers,” Sambyal said.