Uncollected refuse from different parts of the Kathmandu Valley does more than just pose health risks or create an eyesore – it also puts air safety at risk, with birds, attracted to the waste, threatening to hit planes as they take off or land at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). Since the beginning of August, trash had started piling on the streets and lanes of Kathmandu after the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) stopped picking up refuse as the road leading to the Sisdol landfill site was damaged by the monsoon rains. Although the KMC resumed picking up garbage in September, streets and alleys continue to be littered with trash, with piles of it even outside a sensitive place like the TIA. Lanes and alleys apart, the polluted Bagmati and Manahara Rivers, on either side of the TIA runway, are also a reason of the bird menace as people tend to dump their refuse in them without a thought about the environmental hazards this could create.
TIA today lies in the midst of a dense settlement and market places, which generate tons of food waste every day
Bird hits, or collisions between planes and birds, are nothing new to the only international airport of Nepal. Since the first major bird strike in 1996, involving a Thai Airways jet, at least 80 such incidents have been recorded till date. But it wasn't until the year 2000 that the government was impelled to do something about the menace after bird activities at the TIA increased to a level never seen before.
That year alone, bird hits caused major damage to big aircraft such as the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. In more recent years, bird strikes have involved Nepal Airlines Airbus 320 and Malaysian Airlines jet. Although the bird hits have caused no casualties so far, they have resulted in substantial loss to the airlines due to the repair, maintenance costs and being grounded.
When the Kathmandu airport was established in 1949, it was located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, far from the city centre. Today it lies in the midst of a dense settlement and markets, which generate tons of food waste every day, including animal waste from the slaughter houses.
The polluted rivers that flow close to the TIA and uncollected waste in the vicinity of the airport thus attract birds such as kites, egrets, crows, eagles and other birds searching for food. There are many ways to keep the birds from posing a menace at the airport. In the past, shooters and sirens were used to shoo away the birds. The runway and taxiway were swept clean of earthworms after the monsoon rains while grassy areas were sprayed with insecticide to keep the earthworms away. But a long-term solution to the bird menace would require the cooperation of the local bodies, airport management and the public at large, instead of shifting the blame to one another. The residents of the settlements are often careless while disposing of their kitchen and other household waste. And there are fruit and vegetable vendors just outside the TIA fence at Koteswor, who have no qualms about throwing the peels and other leftovers onto the airport premises. Strict regulations are required to keep a 3-kilometre radius from the airport free of refuse at all times for the safety of the dozens of aircraft flying in and out of the busy airport daily.
The border points between Nepal and India have opened 18 months after they were closed to movement of people from both the sides. A cabinet meeting held on Sunday decided to reopen the customs points for the movement of the people from either side by adhering to the health protocols prescribed by both the governments. A report from Rautahat stated that the Rautahat CDO issued a public notice to this effect. Earlier, the people from either side used to cross the border by giving the security personnel manning the customs point a slip.
As per the rules, Indians wishing to enter Nepal are required to show a negative PCR report taken within 72 hours. In case of showing symptoms of similar to COVID-19, they must produce a COVID negative report.
However, people are allowed to cross the border only on foot. People from both the sides had been calling for the resumption of the open border, saying that border closure for such a long period had caused them great inconvenience. The government's decision to reopen the border may be a welcome move.
But we must not forget that free movement of people across the border should not be the reason for the spread of the coronavirus in the communities.
A version of this article appears in the print on September 30 2021, of The Himalayan Times.