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Garbage disposal at holy mountain, a challenge

Sri Pada isbelieved to be the home of God Sumana Saman. At the 2243-meter-high pinnacle is the holy footprint. Buddhists believe it is the Buddha's, Hindus believe it is as Lord Shiva's, Muslims believe its Adam's and Christians believe it is of St. Thomas. Many legends are linked to this holy mountain. The pilgrimage is expected to be done with a pure, clean heart.


The Sri Pada from a distance

The Mahavamsa explains how the sacred footprint was imprinted by the departing Buddha on his third visit. And another legend says that Adam was hurled from paradise for his disobedience and stood in penance for thousand years on one foot at the top of Adam's peak after which he reunited with Eve on Mount Arafat overlooking Mecca.

As time passed the rituals attached to the pilgrimage seems to slowly diminish and with it the belief of keeping this sacred environment clean seems to be lost. Over the years many awareness campaigns were carried out by the local and national authorities at the site as well as through media, about the pollution this volatile environment face.

The mountain is most often scaled from December to May. During other months it is hard to climb due to very heavy rain, extreme wind, and thick mist. The most favourite month is April as it is the season with the most appropriate climate that is just before the southeast monsoon.

The goal is to be on top of the mountain at sunrise, when the distinctive shape of the mountain casts a triangular shadow on the surrounding plain and can be seen to move quickly downward as the sun rises.

The region along the mountain is a wildlife reserve housing many species and including many endemic species. The Sri Pada is also the part of the main watershed in Sri Lanka from which our largest rivers start. One aspect of the Sri Pada season that is a constant worry for environment conservation agencies, both Government and non Government, is the apparent disregard shown towards this environment by pilgrims.

A primary source of concern is the dumping of non-biodegradable items such as polythene and plastic. Pilgrims simply throw away the garbage including polythene food wrappers in to the forest. Garbage can be seen accumulated especially near the eateries. There are several resting places along the route which the pilgrims use, cook and eat their meals and sometimes spend the night. Before the mountain becomes steep for climbing there is a river that separates the mountain peak from the surrounding mountain range where the pilgrims take a bath and clean themselves and change in to clean clothes. All these places are highly prone to get polluted by careless pilgrims.


CEA authorities educating children from the Nallathanniya Tamil Vidyalaya on garbage collection campaign


The new waste collection centre at Nallathanniya

The garbage needs to be collected everyday and no words can explain the difficulty of the mission when even the normal climb is difficult. If pilgrims take a responsibility to collect their own garbage rather than throwing them along the route and dumping them in one place at the last point will be more environment friendly.

The Central Environment Authority following its many efforts to bring a solution to the unending environment pollution of this World Heritage Site at its own cost has constructed a well organised garbage collection point at Nallathanniya. "The environment pollution in Sri Pada during the pilgrimage season is heavily threatening the unique environment over a period of time. Collecting garbage on the route daily has not solved the problem properly," said Chairman of the Central Environment Authority (CEA) Charitha Herath, explaining the role of the new place at Nallathanniya.

The CEA has chosen Nallathanniya to construct this building as it is where the majority of pilgrims prefer to start their journey. "Awareness alone would not solve the problem. People need an organised place to dispose the garbage collected during their pilgrimage too," Herath explained.

This new construction will be a facility supporting the pilgrims to conserve this environment.

This new building comprise separate cubicles for plastic and polythene, glass and paper waste. There are two office rooms in this building - one for the Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Sub Office which will be responsible for operating the waste collection centre and the other office space is for CEA research centre. "The building will not be just abandoned after opening and the Sub Office of the Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha will be operating the centre," said Bandula Sarath Kumara, Director of the National Post Plastic Waste Project of the CEA. This will be a joint project of the CEA and the Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha. "Waste simply cannot be thrown out. It can be recycled and used and has a monetary value," he explained.

Registered under the CEA, totally there are over 150 recyclers in all parts of the country except the Northern Province. In Hatton, which is the closest to this area a recycling plant owned by a private individual registered under the CEA will get the collected waste. The waste will be collected at this point and periodically taken away for recycling.

The Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabha is conducting an awareness program along the entire route during the pilgrimage season to avoid pollution of the environment. "Even if pilgrims carried the waste till the end of the journey there was problem of a proper place to dump them. This new project now addresses the problem," Sarath Kumara added.

Sri Pada belongs to one of the most valuable environment regions of Sri Lanka - the Peak Wilderness Protected Area of the Central highlands of the country. In 2010 when the UNESCO declared Sri Lanka's central highlands as a world heritage Sri Pada became a precious world heritage adding colour to its holy nature. The Central Highlands comprises with Peak Wilderness Protected Area, the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest. These are Sri Lanka's montane rain forests which shelters rare species like bear Monkey ('Trachypithecus vetulus monticola') and Horton Plains slender Loris ('Loris tardigradus nycticeboides').

UNESCO, describing the Sri Lanka's Montane Rain Forests says that more than half of Sri Lanka's endemic vertebrates, half of the country's endemic flowering plants and more than 34% of its endemic trees, shrubs, and herbs are restricted to these diverse montane rain forests and adjoining grassland areas.

Further in its Criteria (ix) in declaring the above mentioned three regions as World Heritage sites the UNESCO says "In the montane forests represented by the three serial properties, the faunal elements provide strong evidence of geological and biological processes in the evolution and development of taxa. The endemic purple-faced langur of Sri Lanka (Semnopithecus vetulus) has evolved into several morphologically different forms recognisable today.

The Sri Lankan leopard, the only representative in the island of the genus Panthera, which diverged from other felids about 1.8 million years ago, is a unique sub-species (Panthera pardus kotiya).

All three nominated properties provide habitat to this subspecies of leopard, endemic to Sri Lanka." Of the 408 species of vertebrates 83 p.c. of indigenous freshwater fishes and 81 p.c. of the amphibians found in Peak Wilderness Protected Area (to which Sri Pada belongs) are endemic, 91 p.c. of the amphibians and 89 p.c. of the reptiles in Horton Plains are endemic, and 64 p.c.of the amphibians and 51% of the reptiles in the Knuckles Conservation Forest are endemic.

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