The garbage menace and its innocent victims

Daily Mirror Editorial

The collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump on Sinhala and Hindu New Year day on which Good Friday also fell was not a natural disaster, nor was it something unexpected. What neither the people nor the authorities knew was the date and the time of collapse of the 300 foot high mountain on the poor residents who are not responsible for the problem.

Even a month ago residents demonstrated against the further heaping up of garbage in the area. But all fell on deaf ears, leaving about thirty people killed and thousands rendered homeless, apart from thousands more facing a similar disaster in the near future.

Meethotamulla is not a suitable place for dumping garbage in large scale, without a proper plan for recycling, as the area is densely populated and so close to the country’s capital. Also people, especially the urban masses cannot find a solution on their own for the garbage problem, as they live in small plots of land. Even in the rural areas where people own relatively larger plots of land, garbage has been a threat to both human as well as animal lives with the increased usage of indecomposable material such as polythene and plastic during the past several decades.

Hence, finding a solution for the problem inexorably falls on the shoulders of government institutions such as local government bodies and the Urban Development Authority (UDA). However, as in the case of politics in Sri Lanka handling garbage is also said to have become a money making business for the authorities concerned. When garbage was dumped in the Bloemendhal area some years ago, it was widely rumoured that the authorities were not prepared to change the dumping place or initiate any recycling process, as the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) authorities were receiving millions as kickbacks from owners of the particular lands where garbage was dumped.

A wide discourse is now on about the Meethotamulla tragedy in the mainstream as well as the social media. Nevertheless the majority of ideas put forward is politically motivated and attempts are always made to use the tragedy to prove their political ideologies, without looking at the issue in hand objectively. Some had even attempted to use the issue to condemn the provincial council system, which is irrelevant.

As happened soon after last year’s floods in the lower parts of the Kelani Valley, serious discussions are now underway for providing relief for the victims of the garbage dump tragedy and finding a solution to the garbage dump. However, one cannot forget that the flood affected people were forgotten by the authorities including politicians within days and even those who lost everything other than life in that disaster were left high and dry. The only relief the people received from the government was a pack of food items worth Rs. 1500 (estimated by the very authorities) and another Rs. 10,000 which was given two months after the disaster, following agitations by the victims. Information on the loss and damages to the properties were gathered four times by the officials, but to no avail.

During meetings on the solutions for that problem, politicians and officials waxed eloquence on mega projects for the prevention of a recurrence, but nothing materialized, leaving the people to face the next flood in the future in the same way. It would not be surprising if the Meethotamulla residents also faced the same fate in the coming weeks.

The leaders of both the former and the present governments have to be responsible for an approximate of thirty lives lost in the collapse of the garbage dump. Even now it is evident through the contradictory statements made by various officials and politicians, that there seems to be no tangible solution either with the government or the local government bodies or the institutions such as the UDA, except for proposing to remove the garbage from Meethotamulla to another place, as the Sinhala saying goes changing the pillow to cure the headache.

Changing the dumping place would not be a lasting solution for the problem as the new places too would be hazardous in the future with more and more garbage being collected there. The leaders of the country have to be reminded that garbage is not a problem faced only by Sri Lankan people. There are countries with cities larger than Colombo that have solved the problem turning solid waste into a source of income.