Elephants lumbering out of the forest and rummaging through mounds of waste have become a common sight at the landfill in Khandothang village in Samtse. Residents say this has not only discouraged them from practising farming but also poses risk to their lives. The people are now requesting the concerned authorities to move the landfill to another place.
Although the landfill site is located about five kilometres from the Samtse town area, it is very close to Khandothang village and the Samtse-Sibsoo Secondary National Highway.
And of late, the landfill has started to attract wild animals, especially elephants due to the growing amount of waste in the area.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, elephants enjoy foods cultivated by humans like rice and bananas in addition to the food that can be found in the wild like grasses, roots and bark and leaves of trees. And remnants of these and other cultivated foods and their packaging can be found in garbage dumps which attract elephants.
The villagers with support from the gewog administration were successful in chasing away a herd of elephants a few weeks ago.
However, the fear of elephants continues to haunt the residents of Khandothang. They expect the return of the herds to their fields anytime. Khandothang village has about 200 households.
“The problem started in 2018. The elephants visit the waste disposal area and consume most of the waste there. Towards the evening, the elephants come to the village and destroy our crops. Earlier, the elephants used to go away when we shouted and used lights on them. But now things are different. They don’t go away easily and pose a severe risk to our livelihoods,” said Loknath Sharma, a resident of the village.
“Earlier, when we were children, our parents and neighbours used to do a lot of farming. But nowadays, hardly a few of them practice farming with the fear of elephants damaging their yields. One of the main cash crops here is betel nut and till today about 80 to 100 betel nut trees have been damaged by the elephants in my village alone,” said Karma Wangzin, another resident.
“Elephants are increasingly becoming a major problem for us as it is affecting most of our agricultural produce like, paddy, betel nuts, banana, vegetables, maize and many more. As a solution to this growing problem, I feel it would be better if the landfill area can be moved to another place far from the village areas,” said Kumar Rai, a resident.
The matter was also highlighted during the recent Dzongkhag Tshogdu.
“Earlier, people used to practice farming and agriculture extensively nearby the landfill areas. There were not many elephants coming in those days. But for the past few years, the farmlands have remained barren and idle. This is all due to elephants. Despite cultivating crops, farmers could not harvest them as elephants would frequently damage their crops,” said Wangchuk, Samtse Gup.
The Samtse Dzongda, however, said that moving or introducing a new landfill is not a good idea. Although there was no definite solution to keep the elephants away from the landfill areas, the Dzongda suggested focusing more on reducing the amount of waste in the landfill area.
“If we segregate our waste at source and introduce various segregation points in all gewogs, we can reduce the quantity of waste being transferred to the current landfill. If this can be done, there will be no waste at the current landfill for two-three years. It can become a park. One of my objectives is to convert that landfill area into a park in two to three years,” said Pasang Dorji, Samtse Dzongda.
To do that, he added the district administration is looking into the possibility of introducing vermicomposting, one of the most efficient ways to reduce biodegradable waste. Likewise, he also encouraged all local leaders to use the Zero Waste application to curb the increasing waste management issue in the district.
Today all kinds of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste from Samtse town and other nearby gewogs are dumped at the landfill in Khandothang. The landfill was constructed in 2006.
Passang Dorji, Samtse
Edited by Sonam Pem