ISLAMABAD, June 15 - For years, cattle farmer Ali Nawaz dumped dung from his animals in a stream that passes his land in Islamabad’s H9 neighbourhood.
But now he has found a use for the manure - selling it to a nearby plant nursery, which earns him extra money and helps reduce flood risk in the area.
Hoeing the dung onto a trolley destined for a manure heap in the corner, the 37-year-old said the nursery collects it from his farm, bringing in more than $100 a month.
His 15 buffaloes and cows generate around 300 kg of manure per day, or nearly 1 tonne per month.
Before, for want of a proper collection system in Pakistan’s capital, the farmer disposed of it in one of the 14 water courses emerging from the scenic forested Margalla hills in the city’s north.
These natural streams snake through Islamabad’s bustling heartland, helping cool blazing summer temperatures. But they have become highly polluted and smelly due to waste tipping and sewage from cattle farms, industries and households in residential areas.
The accumulated waste blocks water flow in the rainy season, causing floods in low-lying areas, particularly during the monsoon from June to September.
Ali Ahmed recalled how his cattle farm in the suburb of Ghouri would flood when the water level in the drainage channel, 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep, rose over its banks, just five feet from his land.
That no longer happens, as the stream is free of his 12 buffaloes’ manure, which he gives away free to a plant nursery owner each week.
“My stalking worries of the cattle getting sick with malaria, skin or diarrheal diseases are a thing of the past,” he said, describing how they would fall ill when their pen was flooded with contaminated water.
A labourer at Ali Nawaz’s cattle farm in Islamabad’s H9 neighbourhood hoes cattle dung into a pile on the edge of a stream, May 22, 2018.
Thomson Reuters Foundation/Saleem Shaikh
Dozens of cattle farms in and around Islamabad help meet demand for dairy products from the city’s growing population of 2 million.
But the hundreds of tonnes of dung they generate daily - much of which is dumped in streams - are causing environmental problems, experts say.
“The city’s vulnerability to urban flood risk has only been exacerbated,” said Muhammad Waseem, a conservationist at green group WWF-Pakistan.
Settlements along the water channels were flooding each year in the monsoon season, because the streams were blocked up with cattle waste, Waseem told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But since plant nurseries began collecting the manure for use as organic fertiliser in 2015, the risk of flooding has been “significantly lowered”, he added.
According to Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI), the city's municipal authority, there are more than 7,000 cattle pens housing some 60,000 cows and buffaloes in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The 1,300 tonnes of dung they produce each day also leads to health risks, and pollution of land and water.
Waseem urged the MCI and Capital Development Authority, which provides municipal services, to roll out a joint long-term plan to scale up waste collection efforts.
Karim Khan adds cattle manure to flower pots at his plant nursery in Islamabad's H9 neighbourhood, home to nearly 50 plant nurseries, June 14, 2018.
Thomson Reuters Foundation/Saleem Shaikh
MORE RESILIENT PLANTS
According to Mohammad Siddique, chair of the Islamabad Nurseries Welfare Association, there are more than 250 tree and flower nurseries in the city, of which between 70 and 80 percent now use cattle manure as organic fertiliser.
“Compared to chemical fertiliser, cattle manure is not only cheaper but more nutrient-rich and effective for plant growth,” he said.
While tree and flowers may grow more slowly with organic inputs, they turn out stronger and more resistant to pests, he added.
The manure also saves the nursery owners a huge amount of money, as it is either free or far cheaper than chemical fertiliser, Siddique said.
A 2015 report, put together by UN-Habitat and national and local government agencies, warns of a surging risk of urban flooding in Islamabad, due to the worsening impacts of climate change aggravated by an inadequate waste management system.
Islamabad mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz, who also chairs the MCI, said his office was considering a plan to collect the nutrient-rich manure, and promote its use in different places, including public parks, household lawns and farms.
Such an initiative could also ease pressure on the city budget by reducing the annual amount spent cleaning out the drainage channels, said Asif Shuja Khan, former director-general of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency.
Reporting by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio; editing by Megan Rowling.