Development Ignores Health Risks
By Dinouk Colombage
Residents of Colombo have accused the Urban Development Authority of disregarding health concerns as they go ahead with “beautification” of the city.
In a letter addressed to the Chief Executive of UNICEF, George Manuelpillai (Former Assistant Director, Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs), highlighted the potential dengue breeding ground that exists in the artificial ponds that have been developed by the UDA in and around Colombo.
Manuelpillai draws attention to the Health Ministry having fined numerous private homes for allowing the breeding of mosquitoes, while claiming that no examinations are being conducted on the artificial lake which was created by the UDA in Dalugama.
He claims that the lakes are not being examined by health officials out of fear of “antagonising the administrative head of the UDA.”
Manuelpillai goes on to request that UNICEF, along with his assistance as a soil scientist and water analyst, draw water samples from the swamp in Dalugama and have them properly analysed.
“These man-made artificial water ponds serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, flies and other disease carrying microbes, causing dengue, malaria, chicken guinea, virus flu and other deadly infectious diseases,” he said.
He also requested that UNICEF advise the Health Ministry “that it is their responsibility to enact Laws and Bylaws to eliminate and/or prohibit the UDA from acquiring valuable upland lands to create pond.”
Suzzane Davy, Communications Officer for UNICEF Sri Lanka, explained that this sort of issue did not come within the operations of UNICEF, but added “if this health risk is genuine then the local authorities must take it seriously.”
Deputy Director of Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr. R. Siyambalagoda, denied that they were turning a blind eye to the development projects being carried out by the UDA.
“We are taking the growing spread of dengue very seriously, if there is any sign of a breeding ground it will be dealt with regardless whether it is a government institute or a private home,” he said.
Siyambalagoda further added that the Health Ministry could not order the UDA to stop building the artificial lakes and ponds around the city as there is no proof that they are a breeding ground for mosquitoes or other waterborne diseases.
“These lakes have fish and birds living in them, it is also flowing water. There is no way that mosquitoes can be breeding in such areas,” he added.
However, Manuelpillai’s complaint is not the only one that has been made against the newly dredged lakes in Colombo.
Janith Abeygunawardena, a resident in Thalawathugoda, said that the man made lake there have also seen a surge in mosquitoes.
“While the lakes have added to the beauty of the area, the authorities need to continually maintain them.
Since they originally dredged them there has been no follow up. For the most part the lake is clean; however, there are areas which garbage is collecting.
This is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said. Abeygunawardena added that when they contacted the Kotte Municipal Council, the public health inspectors came and declared the space clean.
“Despite there being garbage floating on the water the health inspectors took no notice of the situation.
They said that they would return to clean it, but denied there was any threat of dengue in the area, they never returned,” he added. S. Dissanayake, Public Health Inspector of the Kotte Municipal Council, denied that this sort of incident would have happened.
“If a resident reported a potential mosquito breeding ground a team would have been dispatched to investigate.
If they found there was a health risk they would have reported and it would have been cleaned up,” he said.
The UDA was not available for comment.