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Sunday, 29 May 2016

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Meethotamulla residents:

Reeling from a double whammy

The incessant rains that lashed across Colombo and the suburbs since May 14 make the already fragile houses close to the Meethotamulla garbage dump more vulnerable to disasters after floods wreaked havoc for over two weeks.

Nuwan Bopage

Reeling from a double whammy, residents have no option but to return to their flood-ravaged houses to put up with the unbearable stench emanating from the lofty garbage pile in addition to the filthy flood waters which is receding at a snail pace.

Despite the fact their lives have already been affected by the 'skyish' dump and not alternative houses provided to the residents of Meethotamulla a fleet of garbage trucks is back at the dumping site as flood waters recede in Kolonnawa and Meethotamulla area.

The Colombo Municipal Council caught in a dilemma during the floods resumed garbage dumping in Meethotamulla from May 25 as it is left with no alternative site. Its daily garbage operations came to a standstill during the massive floods that devastated Colombo last week.

Therefore, the already stinking issue in Meethotamulla, reveals the fact that the commercial capital has no permanent solution to its solid waste management system posing a risk to those living in close proximity to the dumping site.

According to Hemantha Withanage from the Centre for Environment Justice the Meethotamulla dumping site posed a huge health risk during floods as it added highly contaminated water in to the waterways especially to the Kelania River which is the main drinking water source for residents in the Colombo district.

Trucks unloading garbage at the site

"As we pointed out earlier it is not suitable to maintain a dumping site of this nature in Meethotamulla as it is located in a wetland. The CMC is dumping unsorted garbage which includes chemical and clinical waste with the solid waste collected from the city. Therefore it poses a huge health risk during floods of this magnitude contaminating the waterways around the dump site", he added.He warned that continuing to dump garbage at the site undermining the health risks and its capacity which has exceeded will result in major environmental repercussions.

Injustice

"The callous disregard for the environment and the health of people is an injustice to those in the area as they are not subjected to health check- ups to realise the gravity of the issue.

However, he added that this situation should not be used as an excuse by the government to transport this garbage by rail to Aruwakkalu in Puttalam spending massive amount of funds and put the fresh water resource in Thabbowa at a grave risk.

"As a solution to this situation the authorities should encourage the on-site garbage to enable the management of it easy for them and consider the over 100 proposals they had received for a proper waste management mechanism in Colombo without considering only the Aruwakkalu project as the only solution ", he added.

A CMC senior engineer told the Sunday Observer, they have no option but to dump garbage at the Meethotamulla site though it is not the best option.

He said the Municipal Council has reached out to the flood affected people around the Meethotamulla dump site, to clean up houses and the canal at the site.

"We looked into their needs and helped them to get back to their normal life. We are attending to their medical needs as well. However we had to recommence dumping at Meethotamulla with no other option.During the floods we sent our garbage to Karadiyana dumping site after obtaining a Court order enabling us to dump garbage their until floods recedes", he added. He however said the CMC will have to continue this practice until they find a permanent solution.However the Municipal Commissioner V.A.K. Anura refused to acknowledge that the garbage at the Meethotamulla site was responsible for the recent catastrophe in the area.

"Its devastation was due to the floods. The garbage disposal of the CMC also got affected due to the floods and we resumed dumping of garbage at the Meethotamulla dumping site soon after the flood water receded in the area.

Now the collection and disposal in the Colombo city is back to normal", he added.

Diseases

Nuwan Bopage, the organizer of the People's Movement Against the Meethotamulla Garbage Dump said the people in Meethotamulla and Sedawatta had to suffer immensely from the floods due to garbage mountain in Meethotamulla and after the floods they have been subjected to respiratory and skin diseases and unlike other flood affected people they cannot easily return to their houses as they are filled with filth from the garbage site.

He said people could not even reach their homes during the floods to collect their valuables and essentials from the floods due to the heavily polluted water flowing into their houses from the dumping site.

Over 300 families living around this garbage dump were severely affected due to this situation and nearly 80 families are not in a position to return to their homes.

"The most dangerous thing is that the garbage from the dumping site has blocked many waterways in the area and if steps are not taken to clean them there would be more flooding soon", he added.

He said the people in Meethotamulla are victims of the wrong decision taken by the authorities to have the garbage dumping site in a wetland in Colombo which is a water retention area. Now the garbage site had not only claimed the lives of many in Meethotamulla and Kolonnawa but also the people in surrounding areas too as it spread its highly infected waster into the water ways and flooded the down-streams in Colombo.

"The politicians come up with many solutions on stage and they make use of the garbage issue to gain political mileage and charge huge commissions from investors who come up with waste management projects. But the issue has not been addressed so far.

The garbage disposal issue should be addressed before embarking on mega development projects", he added.

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