When the garbage dump came downhill
Being used as the garbage pit for over five years, the Ambuluwawa
Mountain slided down over a fortnight ago, displacing nearly 70 people
living along the slope. The villagers had been protesting for more than
a fortnight when the landslide occurred. The landslide, along with
approximately 75,000 tons of garbage gliding downhill caused the
calamity, destroying property and displacing people. It sent the Gampola
Urban Council scrambling to look for a suitable land to dump garbage.
The sudden thundering sounds one after the other brought R. Maheswari
to her yard. As she stepped out, the reeking smell of garbage hit her,
and Maheswari realized that the garbage dump on top of the mountain had
suddenly landed in her backyard.
The mud and dirt rolling down Ambuluwawa mountain on that rainy
Tuesday night a fortnight ago, caused havoc in the lives of people like
Maheswari living along the slope, destroying their livestock, acres of
cultivation, and habitats. The once lush landscape, where the community
grew their cash crops - mostly spices is now buried under layers of
garbage and with it lay buried the future of the Ambuluwawa people.
The unhygienic surrounding, the stench, flies that have taken control
of the area, added to the piles of garbage, compelled Maheswari and her
entire neighbourhood to take refuge in the Ambuluwawa Singhapitiya
Ven. Unanvitiye Shanthabhadra Thera, the Chief Priest of the temple
laid the blame for the disaster solely on the Gampola Urban Council and
insisted that they take responsibility for the losses incurred.
Shanthabhadra thera is not alone. Many villagers also think the Urban
Council (UC) should be held responsible.
Mahendra Subramanium a resident of the area, lost 10 goats from his
herd to the landslide. He claims that a land which was earmarked for
garbage dumping was later distributed among a number of people by a
politician in the area.
The 7 1/2 acre land in Jayamal Pura in Mariya Watta, was distributed
or sold to the public before the elections in 2010, Subramanium claims.
"It was after this that the higher lands in the mountain were chosen
to dump garbage," he said.
Subramanium who made a living by cultivating spices and rearing
livestock like many others has been rendered penniless overnight.
An official estimation of the damage is yet to be done. According to
Subramanium, the UC has done nothing but ignored their plight,
complaints and pleas, for months on end, prior to and after the
Displaced villagers camping
at the Ambuluwawa Singhapitiya Temple
Last December, the villagers filed a case at the Magistrate's Court
against the UC for dumping garbage on the mountain. The court case came
to an end with the UC agreeing not to unload garbage at the said
location. However, S. H. Bandara, another resident whose house and
livelihood has been affected, said the UC ignored the court decision and
continued the practice of dumping garbage.
"The UC should take responsibility for this disaster, " he said. He
claims that his community is faced with political oppression added to
the obvious inefficiency of the UC.
The stench from the rotting garbage piles and flies are now part of
their daily lives.
As the garbage has not been categorized before being dumped, the
water springs are being polluted by many hazardous wastes, including
hospital waste and toxic and chemical waste.
In addition to the environmental hazards, the disruption of lives and
their security concerns, another key consequence of the garbage dump is
water pollution. According to elderly villagers water springs begin from
the mountain and flow through the area of Mawanella and enter the Ma Oya.
The negative effects of the garbage dump may have far reaching
consequences affecting communities who are unaware of the issue, Bandara
In an attempt to find a solution to the waste problem which has begun
to waste their lives, the villagers led by Bandara made a complaint at
the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Last week the community went for a
meeting summoned by the HRC to discuss the issue with the Gampola UC and
other government officials.
At the meeting it was revealed that the National Building and
Research Organization (NBRO) had already given a warning against dumping
garbage in the site due to possible landslides in the uneven slope of
Ambuluwawa. In a report dated March 31, 2016, the NBRO has outlined five
reasons against dumping garbage in Ambuluwawa, followed by a warning
that it might cause landslides, Kumudini Vithana, the Regional
Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission Office in Kandy said.
However, representatives from the UC had denied receiving the report
at the meeting, Vithana explained.
At the meeting the UC however, agreed to clear the area and produce a
comprehensive estimate of the damage caused, to facilitate the payment
of compensation. The UC will also be responsible for supplying clean
water for the villagers whose water sources have been contaminated by
the garbage, Vithana told the Sunday Observer.
However, she explained neither party has been able to provide
evidence to the claim that a different dumping site in Mariya Watta was
earmarked earlier. The UC had failed to provide documents to prove
ownership of the land in Ambuluwawa which was used for garbage dumping
for half a decade, Vithana said.
The Regional Coordinator of the Human Right Commission Office in
Kandy directed the officials responsible to provide information on
garbage dumping locations before shifting to Ambuluwawa with the details
of the decision makers on the matter.
The bigger garbage problem
The Gampola UC is now negotiating to allocate a new land in
Pussellawa for garbage dumping, Secretary, Gampola Urban Council Gamini
Jayawickrema said. The UC is planning to call retired labourers to help
with the cleaning of the Abuluwawa area.
According to Jayawickrema, the situation had got out of control when
the villagers didn't allow officers from the UC to access the garbage
dump since March, preventing them from dumping more garbage.
"This also prevented the labourers from digging water drains for the
rainy season. As a result, when the heavy rains hit the area, the
garbage slid down the slope," he said.
The search for a suitable dumping site has led to a dead end due to
protests by residents, Jayawickrama explained.
"I hope the Pallekele land will be allocated to solve the garbage