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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
India to clean up Himalayan rubbish
Helicopter drops supplies at Indian landing zone in Siachen area
Decades of war have built up a mountain of waste
test hello test
By Asit Jolly
BBC reporter in Chandigarh

A university research project in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh is looking at how tons of organic waste accumulating in the world's highest battlefield, Siachen, can be cleaned up.

The Siachen glacier, at 20,000 feet above sea level and with temperatures below freezing, has been central to the conflict between India and Pakistan for nearly two decades.

Until now, the sub-zero temperatures and the high altitude have prevented the permanent disposal of organic waste generated by the thousands of soldiers deployed there.

The waste has continued to accumulate over the years with no means of decomposition in the permafrost.

Scientific breakthrough

Finding ways of cleaning the rapidly accumulating waste-pile atop the snow-bound region has in many ways proved a hard battle.

Indian soldiers wait to be flown to Siachen positions
Thousands of soldiers have served here

Some environmentalists say this battle has at times been tougher than the one Indian and Pakistani troops have been waging against each other for years.

A project run by Punjab University's Energy Research Centre (ERC) has been looking for ways of decomposing human waste at very low temperatures.

Now, with support from the Indian Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), it is close to a scientific breakthrough.

The ERC's director, SK Sharma, told the BBC his group has isolated a number of bacteria capable of decomposing organic wastes at sub-zero temperatures.

Wider applications

Dr Sharma said that work was now underway to develop practical designs for biogas reactors that would function efficiently in the mountains.

Himalayan glacier in Kashmir's Ladakh region
Sub-zero temperatures delay decomposition

He said methane gas generated by the new reactors would be able to meet the soldiers' heating requirements in their bivouacs on the Siachen glacier.

Working in close collaboration with the DRDO, Dr Sharma and his team of researchers are confident that their work will help deal with the growing waste problem at Siachen.

They think their discovery will also solve similar problems currently faced by civilian populations living at high altitudes and in arctic regions.

They say the key attraction of the ERC's discovery is that it will cost only a fraction of what it takes to dispose of organic wastes by existing methods at any altitude.

See also:

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Analysis: India firm over Kashmir
15 Aug 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's Northern Areas dilemma
08 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sacred abode under threat
23 May 01 | South Asia
Q&A: Kashmir dispute
13 Jul 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Searching for a solution
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