Though the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown to curb its spread not only isolated people across the globe but also took away jobs, shut businesses and hit mental health, the pandemic also provided some with new opportunities to keep themselves stress-free while maintaining cleanliness in the surrounding.

The ‘COVID-19 Balak Movement’ is one such campaign that focuses on cleanliness and raising awareness regarding cleanliness of the nature.

The campaign, which completed its 100th day on October 17, was initiated during the lockdown period.

According to the initiator of the ‘COVID-19 Balak Movement’, Ashok Kumar Gurung, they have cleaned-up several localities, surrounding hills of Kathmandu and touristic destination outside valley under the drive, the Maharajgunj-Chakrapath area; Pilot Baba Ashram, Bhaktapur; Bahubali falls, Kavrepalanchowk; Switzerland Park, Chandragiri and Chiseni Gumba, Budhanilkantha being some of them.

“I was stressed staying at my home for several months owing to the first lockdown. As the first lockdown eased, I visited several hills near Kathmandu valley and realised that the garbage left behind by visitors was a significant problem as it posed extreme health hazards,” said Gurung adding, “Some days there are two or three of us cleaning the hills, but the other days we get help from more than 40-50 people.”

Even though there are many places near Kathmandu valley that help people disconnect from the city’s hassle and pollution for a short time, to reach those places is a hassle in itself as they are remote.

The lack of proper roads, let alone transportation facilities, makes such journeys a bitter experience while lack of toilets and trashcans in touristic areas add to the pollution.

Even though the COVID-19 Balak Movement team swipe the hills clean, the problem at the end is transportation of the collected waste.

Gurung said, “Most of us reach our destination via bikes as the roads are inappropriate for cars so we face problem in bringing the waste back. We have met different higher-ranking people of several associations and asked them for help. While some of them are happy and grateful to see our work and offer help, most choose to stay indifferent even when we try to aware them of the hazards of pollution.”

When asked if it is a sustainable campaign, Gurung said, “This campaign is like a journey and we will be working till there is cleanliness everywhere. We know that’s not possible immediately or through a single campaign or a group, but we have to do our part. Everyone needs to clean their surroundings for the whole neighborhood to be sanitary so as to achieve long-term efficiency.”

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 4.8 million tonnes of solid waste generated globally comes from tourists around the world.

The foremost reason for such waste in natural hills, according to Gurung, is that the tourists visiting such areas carry packaged foods including snacks and cold drinks as there are no shops in most hilly areas.

However, the packaging plastic of those items are thrown in a haphazard manner for want of waste bins at sight or monitoring officials.

“The impact of this small negligence on the environment, community livelihoods, cultural heritages and climate can result in huge disasters in the long run,” Gurung said.