A Stinking Life

by Ifham Nizam

After months of agitations, residents living near the Meethotamulla garbage dumping site last week decided, enough is enough.

The residents took to the streets demanding an end to the daily stink they have to live with.

Last week garbage trucks were not allowed to dump garbage at the Meethotamulla garbage dumping site.

A demonstration was staged by the residents after which garbage trucks were blocked from entering the site.

The demonstration was led by United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian S. M. Marikkar.

“I have been a resident here since 1977. I have been part and parcel of all protests and campaigns and often end up as the victim in the hands of politicians,” 64 year old S. D.D. Sunil said.

Another resident of the area, Mohamed M. B. H.Farook questioned if the people were aware of the situation in the country.

“Most of you have no idea of what is happening. There are tons and tons of garbage mountains in every nook and corner of Sri Lanka. Most of us have seen them but we just ignore and pass by and if you ever happen to stop by the corner and talk of these garbage ruins with a person in the area you will understand the calamity they are going through. This includes the smell, amount of garbage, increase in harmful bacteria and microbes, etc., which are unbearable,” he said.

Farook said that a majority of the people aren’t bothered or unaware of this because it doesn’t affect them.

“Now you will wonder what is going to happen when the rainy season starts. Once the rainy season starts, we know that rain water is acidic, right? Its pH value is less than 6 and therefore, it’s acidic. So when this acidity mixes with certain compounds in garbage out there, certain harmful gases as well as harmful compounds will form which will cause direct harm to our respiratory system as well as our skin.

“The next scenario is that rain water starts collecting in garbage and it paves way for mosquito larvae, which might affect not only that particular area but also the whole country,” he added.

IsuruLiyanage, another resident said that there was no politics behind the protest against the garbage dumping site.

“The government should really come forward with a solution to resolve the garbage disposal issue. Time and time again the government makes a promise but they never keep up the promise. Many countries are now in a far better situation than us when disposing garbage. Our government is pondering on the same old issues which are not even important. First they should care about us? Am I not right? We citizens hold the future of Sri Lanka and if we are not treated and looked after properly there won’t be any future. The grownups can somehow bear these issues to a certain extend but what about the children? Their immune system isn’t strong as ours. They fall sick quickly, even the little amount of air they inhale from the garbage sites can make them sick very easily. We really need a quick solutions from the government for these garbage issues,” he said.

M. Siva said that they were asked by the government to vacate the area. “We were told that Rs. 1.5 million would be given with the first installment,Rs. 1 million given after demolishing the house and Rs. 500,000 later. About 75 per cent of the ‘101 watte’ village accepted the money and continue to suffer. What we want is a house. There are between 30 and 35 families here. We can’t continue to reside here unless the garbage mountain is completely cleared,” he said.

Leelawathie said that she doesn’t even want to talk about garbage in her area. “This issue has really depressed me more than any other issue. Last year’s flood issue affected my family mainly because of the garbage. The amount of garbage that came inside our houses, the worms that came along the garbage, both my children fell sick and the doctors said that the cause was not the flood alone but the garbage that came along with it. I thought the government would take serious actions after the flood on these junks but they still haven’t. It’s like we are in a country which has higher authorities blind to serious issues and visible to simple issues.”

The lives of the people living near the garbage mountain in Meethotamullawere placed at risk by last year’s floods which also swept tons of garbage into their homes.

The worst part, according to residents, is that even after the flood waters had receded, a foul odor has permeated the air and the thick black component of the garbage mountain has clung to a number of houses, giving them a dirty, black appearance.

Residents expressed disgust at successive governments saying that they elected President Maithripala Sirisena to bring some relief to their plight but now the situation is going from bad to worse.

Until 2008, Pottuvilkumbara in Meethotamulla was an area which was used to dump garbage from Kolonnawa and Mulleriyawa. However, a court order was issued to temporarily dump garbage from Bloemendhal in Kotahena when the infamous mountain was set alight. This led to not only garbage from Colombo but the Gamapaha District too being dumped in Meethotamulla.

Now the Meethotamulla garbage mountain soars more than 300 meters high and more than 1,000 tonnes of garbage dumped per day.

It has been reported that of more than 1,000 people tested, some 60 per cent were suffering from medical complications.

As a short-term solution, the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and the Western Provincial Council are now taking action in this regard.

Officials said that they are in the process of working on a long-term solution to put an end to the problem. The Western Provincial Council and CMC are working on a management plan at present.

Government officials warned that that the situation could get much worse when the south-east monsoon arrives.

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