Of that ‘garbageslide’
Posted on April 16th, 2017

Editorial The Island

The Meethotamulla garbage mountain collapsed on the New Year day, burying many people alive. About 26 bodies had been recovered at the time of going to press. According to initial reports the garbage-slide has destroyed around 200 houses.

How civilized a nation is can be judged by the way it disposes of its garbage; if countries were to be ranked according to a scaling system based on municipal waste disposal, Sri Lanka is sure to be bracketed with the ten worst nations. The Meethotamulla disaster has occurred within one month of a massive garbage dump collapse which claimed 46 lives near Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, last month.

Unfair as it may be for the present government alone to be blamed for the Meethotamulla landfill tragedy it had nearly two and a half years to ensure the safety of people living around the site; it, too, chose to let the grass grow under its feet and waited until disaster struck to swing into action.

It had been patently clear that disaster was waiting to happen at Meethotamulla. There had been quite a few early warnings. The media had also sounded several warnings, but to no avail. The garbage mountain continued to grow under successive governments which conveniently shifted Colombo’s waste problem to Meethotamulla. The previous administration received praise for keeping urban areas, especially the Colombo City, clean, but the fact remains that it did so at the expense of the people of Meethotamulla and their counterparts elsewhere.

Unable to bear it anymore the Meethotamulla residents took to the streets a few moons ago to stop the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) from transporting garbage to the site. The matter finally ended up in courts. The CMC’s efforts to shift its waste to Wattala as an alternative also ran into stiff resistance.

Politicians are now playing Sri Lanka’s national sport—the blame game. The government is blaming its predecessors for the Meethotamulla garbage dump and vice versa. Their collective failure has lent credence to the claim being made in some quarters that Sri Lanka is a failed state.

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, as they say. Garbage ceases to be a problem if properly managed. The yahapalana government ought to learn from Singapore how to handle municipal waste. There are also other nations which dispose of their waste in an eco-friendly manner.

No sooner had the present government come to power in 2015 than it unveiled a grandiose scheme for creating a Megapolis, of all things. Having undertaken to scrap the Colombo Port City project it made a U-turn by agreeing to increase the extent of land to be reclaimed. Regrettably, it hasn’t paid any heed to make-or-break factors such as power, water and garbage disposal as regards the new project. The mega city to be built is bound to lead to a massive increase in demand for electricity and water at a time the Ceylon Electricity Board as well as the National Water Supply and Drainage Board are struggling to meet the existing demand. The CMC has already caused about 26 people to perish in its efforts to keep Colombo clean. How many more people will have to die in the event of the Port City coming into being with the CMC having to removing its waste as well is anybody’s guess.

Japan has sent a condolence message and offered to help deal with the Meethotamulla garbage dump. We have political leaders who wrap themselves in the flag and bellow patriotic rhetoric. But, they cannot at least solve the country’s garbage problem with or without foreign assistance. It behoves them to compensate the families of the Meethotamulla victims adequately and take steps to solve the garbage problem once and for all.

Police take into custody those who dump garbage irresponsibly. But, no mayor or a municipal official has ever been arrested for dumping garbage in suburbs and causing health and environmental problems. We have had several environment ministers and Colombo mayors since the dumping of garbage at Meethotamulla commenced about 30 years ago. All of them must be held responsible for the loss of lives at Meethotamulla. They are lucky that the country is without laws to make them face a firing squad!

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