As Yangon in Myanmar attracts more investors and locals, it is producing more and more waste. Residents have said 'no' to the privatisation of trash collection, but this means they have to live with a growing problem.
The sour stench of rotting rubbish attacks the nostrils even from a distance of more than five metres. It is coming from the entrance of a forgotten back alley, small and slightly blocked by a canvas tent.
This is the back alley of Mr Win Aye's estate, No. 6 Ward in Kamayut township. From his fourth-floor flat, not a square inch of ground can be seen. The narrow path is buried under empty cans, broken glass bottles, rotten vegetables and used Styrofoam boxes - all thoughtlessly thrown out the windows by residents.
Comprised mostly of government flats built close together, No 6 Ward is an example of a middle class residential area in rapidly modernising Yangon.
Mr Win Aye, 49, who is the chairman of the Ward Development Committee, often surveys the area.
"We cleaned up the back alley three years ago when we built the drainage system, but some of the residents still continue to throw their rubbish down from the windows," he said.
The rest of Yangon faces the same problem. The city is almost 600 sq km, about 80 per cent the land area of Singapore, with a similar population of 5.21 million. It produces up to 1,690 tonnes of solid waste every day, and this will only increase as the country opens up and attracts more foreign businessmen and people from parts of Myanmar to the city.
The Yangon City Development Council (YCDC), a government agency, can only handle up to 1,500 tonnes of waste a day. Budget constraints allow the YCDC only a limited increase in its waste management capacity each year, not nearly enough to tackle the ever-increasing amount of trash.
One solution the YCDC came up with was to privatise rubbish collection. That plan had to be dumped, however, when more than 80 per cent of Yangon residents rejected the proposal, even though two companies had won the tender. The increase in collection fees, from 600 kyat to 1,600 kyat (S$0.67 to S$1.76) a month, was cited as one of the main reasons.
But not everyone is against privatisation. Mr Tin Win, a 50-year-old waste collector, said: "Private companies will pay more . . . and have better working conditions."
Another waste collector, Mr Sitt Thi, 50, said that cleared rubbish chutes would be half-filled again less than an hour after clearing - a phenomenon unseen in the past.
Ironically, the growing trash problem has created an avenue of income for scavengers.
One can often hear the laughter of children at landfills. These kids tag along with their parents who scour the mountains of rubbish: a bag full of glass, paper or plastic can fetch about US$4 (S$5.60) from private recycling companies.
But if the waste problem continues to grow, it can add up to bigger problems like blocked sewage and health problems.
"People don't know that blockage can cause sewage water to overflow into the drinking water tank just below the block near the drains, and that is very dangerous," said Mr Win Aye.
Unfortunately, the YCDC has no concrete alternatives to the aborted privatisation plans.
But Mr Win Aye believes better efficiency can come from the government.
"Private (companies) will charge higher because they are profit-making, so why doesn't the government charge us a little more but less than the companies, and do better? " he wondered.
"This way, it can be cheaper for the public and the trash can be properly cleaned up."