Yangon NewsNews Yangon
Yangon's two-week landfire poses urgent issues for municipalities
There is still a faint veil over Yangon's Hlaingthayaownship, where the extensive Htein Bin waste disposal site burnt for 14 whole-weeks. Many of the township's inhabitants - one of Myanmar's most impoverished and densely populated - continue to live as usual: Mummy feeds their baby in small shacks on the edge of the garbage heap. Dog parcels wander the plastics desert looking for something to eat under the cups.
The Hlaingthaya inhabitants say that the garbage dumps catch fire for most years, but the fires have never been so big and last so long. Between 20 April, when the fire started, and 3 May, when the police at last brought the fire under scrutiny, more than two tens of men were hospitalized for poisoning and injury.
Waste disposal site fire is not unusual in less developed countries. In January 2016, when India's biggest waste disposal site, in Deonar in Mumbai, was set on fire, it burnt for two month and could be seen from nowhere. The fire started again this year. Cerro Patacón in Panama burnt for several nights in 2008 and 2013.
Where the Htein Bin fire is concerned, most regulators quote that the cause is being investigated and there is no evidence of a challenge. Virtually no report mentions the causes or remedies commonly found in scientific papers on solid wastes. People in Yangon - like Mumbai and Panama Capital - are asking why the municipality continues to disregard textbooks for a slow-burning catastrophe.
The municipality took immediate effect the next morning after the fire began, sending several hundred firemen, troops and policemen with lorries and tubes to pour down some of the flaming garbage, in the hope that some of it would get to the underground spring of the fire before it evaporated. However, the documentation on landfire shows that it is often due to excessive exposure to hot and gaseous emissions from the decomposition of such wastes.
In the words of Julius de Jong, CEO of the disposal firm Orgaworld Asia, there are basic and well-known methods that can help avoid and monitor landfilled fire like at Htein Bin. It is the most efficient way to segregate the organic substances in such a way that they are processed elsewhere and do not reach the dump at all.
In Yangon, where an estimation of 2,000 tons of biodegradable residues are generated every single working day, the arsonist could instead be used for the production of fertilizer and power. There are also defensive routes for landfill sites containing biological wastes. Fireproof landfill sites around the globe are constructed on a single coating of cement or metals to prevent the entry of solid wastes into the eco-system.
There are also some that contain a minerally coating on the garbage to keep it out. Drying dissociated organics will slow down degradation and reduce the emission of warmth and gas. Htein Bin dump has none of these protective measures. If a dump catches fire, the most efficient way is to suffocate it with clay or silt.
At Yangon - where the fire burned 50 ft below the ground in some places - the government rejected this idea because it "would not be able to touch the fire". Instead, the municipalities purchased the Thai company Biofam. Just like that, mousse can extinguish superficial burns. Awareness of the scarcity of resources that hinders fire-fighting, Yangon citizens appeared to help.