China to burn, not bury, as it tackles trash challenge ‘Waste-to-energy’ encouraged
Seeking halal contraception in Kenya’s Muslim northeast
Thousands of tons of urban waste are hidden behind scrubbed white walls at a new power plant on the outskirts of the Chinese city of Wujiang, with even its chimney disguised as a clock tower. Desperate to fight mounting trash problems but wary of public opposition, China is building new incineration capacity designed to blend into its surroundings and limit environmental damage. Located in sparsely populated farmland around 60 miles west of Shanghai, with white geese dotting the lake around it on three sides, the Wujiang plant is designed to burn 1,500 tons of garbage every day.
It generates heat to run turbines that deliver 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity to the power grid at preferential tariffs, around double those of coal-fired plants and the source of two-thirds of its revenue. “Combustion reduces the volume, turns it into a resource and detoxifies it, so we believe it is going to be a mainstream product within 20 years,” said Cai Shuguang, deputy general manager of China Everbright International, which built the plant. With land scarce and consumption surging, China has little choice but to burn as much trash as it can, said Cai.
The landfills encircling Beijing are known collectively as the capital’s “seventh ring road”, while throughout the country burial of untreated waste has contaminated land and built up potentially hazardous pockets of methane. About 200 trucks dump up to 10 tons of trash each day in a silo 26 meters deep at the Wujiang plant. Toxic emissions are captured and little is wasted, with furnace slag recycled into bricks. Everbright’s first waste-to-energy (WTE) plant was built in nearby Suzhou more than a decade ago. China as a whole had 223 WTE plants by the end of last year, and that number could double by 2020.
But household waste treatment and recycling rates are still way too low, China said in a plan published in September, adding that industry spending would need to reach 192.4 billion yuan ($28 billion) from 2016 to 2020. The plan aims to incinerate more than 500,000 tons of waste a day by then, or 2-1/2 times the 2014 figure. Better-off cities will have to burn most garbage, and curb landfill expansion. “Waste-to-energy is being encouraged from top to bottom: Subsidies are very high and profits far exceed those from recycling,” said Zhao Youcai, a waste management expert at Shanghai’s Tongji University.
But China has struggled to reach previous
Swaddled in colorful hijabs the women exchange puzzled looks and suppress embarrassed giggles. “You’re sure it’s halal?” asks one, peering at a collection of birth control pills, condoms and IUDs. Such everyday forms of contraception are little known and rarely seen in Kenya’s arid and neglected northeast, an overwhelmingly poor, conservative and Muslim part of the country where most people are pastoralist ethnic Somalis.
A study of early marriage by the charity Save the Children found that just two percent of the population of Wajir county uses contraception-compared with a national Kenyan average of 58 percent-due to modern contraceptive methods being seen as a breach of Islamic principles. But Deka Ibrahim, a female Islamic teacher, explains that contraception is halal, permissible, as she talks to a group of 40 newly-weds and mothers sitting on the dusty concrete floor of a dark room that is the village’s tiny maternity centre.
One woman feeds her child while others absentmindedly fidget with the long sleeves of their austere outfits, revealing intricately painted henna tattoos and fake diamond bracelets. “The Muslim religion allows the use of these methods in certain circumstances, especially if the health of the baby and mother are at the heart of the thought process,” says Ibrahim. She adds however that according to this interpretation of Islam there are conditions for using contraceptives: they must be temporary, spousal approval is required, and, she reminds them, abortion is illegal in Islam as well as in Kenyan law. As a government nurse goes on to explain how to use the different devices, Halima, 16, the mother of a nine-month-old girl listens
China wants to remedy environmental damage caused by three decades of breakneck growth through incentives for private businesses to profit from environmental protection. It now has fewer lowincome “scavengers” to sort garbage in big cities, as rising living standards and falling prices of raw materials have blunted recycling incentives, Zhao said. “Garbage mountains” and “garbage rivers” litter the countryside, where China aims to treat 90 percent of household waste by 2020. But officials say innovative funding mechanisms are needed. Subsidy is not a sustainable path, so China must boost market participation, Zhao said. “Garbage recycling relies on government, and waste-toenergy is subsidized,” he added. “It is a bottomless pit: the amount is just too high and the profits too low.”— Reuters intently. “I want to have more children, but not now. I want to wait until my child has grown up a bit and I’m sure she is healthy,” Halima says.
Tradition vs health -
targets, with daily incineration capacity of 235,224 tons by the end of 2015 missing a goal of more than 300,000 tons. “The main reason is the level of understanding among local governments, and we also need to work on eliminating the problem of Nimbyism,” Cai said. Waste incinerators have provoked protest as communities worry about stench and the risk of toxic emissions. Last week, the housing ministry vowed to toughen pollution controls and combat “Nimbyism” by offering cheaper water, heat and electricity for those living near waste projects. Such moves would transform perceptions to “profit in my backyard” from “not in my backyard”, the ministry said.
Here, maternity and tradition are issues that burn as hot as the sun beating down on the sandy soil and dry thorn bushes outside, issues that sideline women and can endanger their lives and those of their children.More than four in 10 women in northeast Kenya are married before their 18th birthday, their youth leading to increased problems in pregnancy, labour and birth. Making the situation worse is that most deliveries are home
births, unsanitary and without qualified midwives. On top of that, the average woman has eight children, a large brood-like a herd of livestock-seen as a symbol of wealth in Somali culture. “When an adolescent girl becomes pregnant or there is not enough space between pregnancies, the risk of complications is high,” says Sulekha Mohamed of Save the Children, adding that 98 percent of women in northeast Kenya are circumcised, heaping further risk on giving birth. “If you are pregnant four months after giving birth, your body has not had time to recover,” she says.
Religion to the rescue
A 2014 demographic study showed perinatal deaths in Kenya’s northeast were more than 50 percent higher than the national average. Since then religious leaders have been co-opted into battling the statistics. “Historically, in our culture, men take many wives and women have many children, so family planning is seen as a foreign idea, a colonial Western idea to limit the population,” says Mursal Abdiwahab, the khadi of Wajir in charge of the Muslim family court, who ruled that contraception is halal. “Our role as religious leaders and learned people is to explain what Islam allows or not.”The message seems to be getting through. In the first three months of this year, 3,177 women joined the family planning program, a major increase from the 1,382 participants in the same period the year before. Safiya, a 28-year-old mother of four, says she wants “more children, because that is what my religion dictates,” but after learning that contraception is permitted in Islam she is now spacing out her pregnancies. — AFP
WAJIR, Kenya: An employee of charity Save the Children gives explanations to a group of women during a session at the local maternity facility on what Islam allows and does not allow in terms of family planning, and on the benefits of family planning at a village in Wajir County. — AFP
HEIHE: Smoke billows from a heating factory in Heihe, in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province. Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have been nearly flat for three years in a row-a ‘great help’ but not enough to stave off dangerous global warming, a report said yesterday. — AFP
A nurse explains how various contraceptive methods work during a session at the local maternity facility in Wajir County. — AFP