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Sunday, 10 January 2016

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Drowning in dross

The Meethotamulla waste dump continues to be a sore topic for residents as authorities look for a viable and affordable solution to the stinking mess:

The Meethotamulla waste dumping site, which has remained a stinking issue for the residents for several years, has finally garnered the attention of the authorities, following the assault on a group of residents participating in a Satyagraha campaign to protest the dumping of garbage in their backyard. But there doesn't seem to be any solution in sight for the long suffering resident, forced to breathe in the reek and contend with disease and sickness every waking hour.

The garbage issue has been a sour topic for the residents of this Kolonnawa settlement, who have time and again staged various forms of protests demanding the 16-acre garbage dump be removed and the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) stop dumping truck loads of stinking, reeking, putrid dross.

Until now, the CMC, which dumps several hundred tonnes of garbage at the site on a daily basis, has literally turned a blind eye to the health risks faced by the residents, especially the young, the weak and the elderly. However, following the assault, allegedly perpetrated by the Chairman of the Kolonnawa Urban Council, officials of the Colombo Municipal Council and several Ministers have been visiting the site. But resident don't see any solution to their plight in the foreseeable future.

Around 300 families have been forced to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere to make way for the ever growing mountains of garbage, while more 4,500 families who live there are exposed to virulent diseases and skin disorders, making their life a daily nightmare.

Environmental analysts say large quantities of leachate from the site have severely polluted water bodies like the Kelani River, the main source of water supply for Colombo District, and that severe ground water pollution has also been observed in the area.

More than 700 tonnes of Colombo's garbage is dumped at this site by the CMC on a daily basis, turning a blind eye to the plight of the residents. Residents argue that no effort has been made to find a permanent solution to the problem.

According to officials, the Meethotamulla waste dump site has been in operation for the past 20 years and is presently owned by the Urban Development Authority (UDA). The site was initially used by the Kolonnawa Urban Council to dump the garbage collected from the Kolonnawa Urban Council area.

Supreme Court directive

The CMC has been dumping garbage collected from around the Colombo District at the Meethotamulla site since April 2009. This was done on a directive from the Supreme Court, following the suspension of the garbage dumping agreement the CMC had with a private owner of the Bloemendhal dump. The site was given to the CMC by the UDA, making the former responsible for manage it with minimal harm to the environment or the residents.

A panel of experts appointed by the Supreme Court outlined a set of objective and evaluated and shortlisted the contractors eligible to handle the garbage collected from the city for dumping at the Meethotamulla site, but the objectives were never achieved.

The situation has resulted in a series of environmental issues and a form of eviction that sees residents being forced to flee their homes to make way for the ever increasing garbage mountains.

According to officials, although the Pilisaru Project of the Central Environment Authority maintained a garbage sorting operation at the Meethotamulla site, the daily load was way too large for the project to have any impact. The site itself has expanded to 17 acres at present.

The UDA, which took over the handling of garbage, is considering a proposal to transfer the garbage to the Aruwakkalu sanitary landfill by rail, but it is to receive due approval from the authorities.

According to the proposed project, 1200 tons of solid waste collected from the CMC area is to be compressed and loaded to 20-feet containers at Meethotamulla Transfer Station, and transported to Aruwakkalu by train, using the existing railway line from Kolonnawa to Aruwakkalu via Puttalam. The waste containers are to be unloaded at the Aruwakkalu unloading station and transferred to the sanitary landfill site.

However, while the proposal gathers dust in some high office, the problem has now been shifted to a committee consisting of Secretaries to the Ministries of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Mahaweli Development and Environment, Megapolis and Western Region Development and the Chief Secretary of the Western Provincial Council.

Viable solution

According to Kamal Pathmasiri, Secretary, Ministry of Provincial Council and Local Government, the committee comprising Secretaries to these Ministries had met on several occasions to discuss the issue and had requested for proposals for a viable and affordable solution to the stinking issue.

"We have received over 60 proposals and a Technical Evaluation Committee will consider these proposals to find an affordable solution to the problem," he said, adding that the Aruwakkalu project proposal was among those being considered and that report will be submitted soon after considering all proposals.

Deputy Director of the Waste Management Authority (WMA) of the Western Provincial Council, Nalin Mannaperuma, meanwhile acknowledged that the dumping site at Meethotamulla has become a public nuisance to the people living in the area and no solution has been found as yet.Though a Waste to Energy project was proposed to handle the waste collected, that proposal too is gathering dust, he claimed.

"What should happen there is to mitigate the environmental effects from the site, and as the WMA in the Western Province, we are ready to provide the necessary guidelines for the CMC to mitigate environmental damage from the dumping site," he said.

He however pointed out what was noteworthy was that the relevant agencies, the Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry, Megapolis and Western Region Development Ministry, Central Environment Authority, Urban Development Authority, National Solid Waste Management Support Centre of the Provincial Councils and Local Government Ministry are now working hand in hand to find a solution to the problem.

Waste to energy

Mannaperuma said the WMA is planning to have in place three waste- to-energy projects to handle the garbage issue in the metro Colombo region. "We are planning to have waste to energy projects in Kaduwela, Karadiyana and Muthurajawela to solve this issue.

Though one institution signed agreements with the WMA to have waste to energy project in the Kaduwela Municipal Council and Karadiyana Waste dumping site, that company failed to initiate the project,"

he pointed out. Now the WMA has again invited proposals from investors to start this waste-to- energy projects very soon, he said.

Attorney Nuwan Sanjeewa Bopage, the convenor of the People's Movement Against the Meethotamulla Dumping Site said though they expected the politicians representing the area to solve the issue they have failed miserably, and have instead used the tears and blood of the people living around this massive garbage dump for their political advantage.

"This garbage dump has become a lucrative business for some of the local politicians in Kolonnawa and they do not want to see an end to this problem or to remove the dump from the area to give a peaceful life for the people living there," he charged.

Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Faiszer Musthapha who visited the Meethotamulla garbage dump said politicians in Kolonnawa should not use the garbage dump for their political advantage but work together irrespective of political differences to solve this issue.

"Don't make the garbage dump in Meethotamulla a platform for petty politics. If the SLFP and the UNP can join hands to form the present government, the politicians in Kolonnawa too can get together to solve this issue as the government is determined to resolve it and relieve the people in Kolonnawa from the burden of l the garbage dump," he said.

Coming from the Minister in charge of the Local Government bodies, the comments make a lot of sense, but what is most important is to turn those words into practice for the benefit of the people who have suffered long enough.

 

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