ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Urban Waste and the Human–Animal Interface in Delhi

It is well-documented that urban waste contributes to the economy by creating livelihoods. Less is known, however, about the role of urban waste in producing human–animal ecologies involving livestock and wild birds. Here, four aspects of human–animal relationships in two urban subsystems involving waste as raw material for both stall-fed livestock (focusing on cows) and foragers (focusing on kites) are discussed. These are the roles of waste as feed; complex spatial relationships between animals, humans and their wastes; high densities of animals and humans leading to conflict over waste; and emerging threats of diseases spilling across social and physical barriers between animals and humans mediated by waste, with implications for the health of urbanised living beings.

Nishant Kumar ( is Visiting Fellow at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Aparajita Singh ( is a Master’s student at the Tata Institute of Social Science, Hyderabad. Barbara Harriss-White ( is Senior Research Fellow, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Professor Emeritus of Development Studies, and Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford University

In developing tropical countries, rapid urbanisation, often involving in-migration, has created megacities marked by social and economic heterogeneity (UN 2018). Despite the rapid expansion in research on tropical megacities (reviewed in Niemelä et al 2011), four aspects of urban waste have received limited attention.

First, that waste feeds animals. Urban economic expansion is associated with a rise in the per capita consumption of animal products, especially meat and milk (Pica-Ciamarra 2005; Speedy 2003). Demand for milk has transformed India from a state of acute shortage to being the world’s leading milk producer (FAO 2009, 2019). This dietary transition has generated livelihoods for livestock owners in cities, many of whom use urban food waste from domestic and commercial sources as animal feed for their backyard cows and other urban livestock (Narayanan 2019). This is a valuable subsidy to dairy owners in cities and towns. In the process, they also ensure the relatively safe disposal of some urban food waste (Salemdeeb et al 2017). Edible waste in roadside garbage dumps provides food for urban livestock, primarily cows, and other urban animals (Kumar et al 2018a).

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Updated On : 6th Dec, 2019
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