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Garbage woes

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A year since the Meethotamulla tragedy that claimed the lives of 32 people and destroyed close to 60 homes, garbage still continues to be a prickly problem for the Government as well as the public. Despite numerous attempts by the authorities to implement garbage segregation regulations and enforce anti-dumping laws, the overall picture, to the dismay of an exasperated people, has changed little.

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) recently sought the assistance of the police to arrest those who dump garbage illegally while also implementing regulations to stop collecting non-segregated waste. The latter of which has been implemented with a varying level of stringency depending on which part of the city one resides in – all this in the wake of renewed accusations from sections of the public that garbage collection is sporadic, and the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry sensationally claiming that the garbage problem in Colombo has been resolved.

Successive governments have been notoriously adept at providing short-sighted kneejerk solutions to several of the country’s problems which has greatly hampered development. The inability to provide a sustainable and holistic solution to this seemingly unending crisis finally culminated in the loss of life just over a year ago; but little has changed since – or at least the changes have been inconsistent in its implementation. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Meethotamulla tragedy, the necessity of better waste management from the local authorities as well as the public became a major talking point. Private companies, as well the State bodies, began to encourage better consumption habits and garbage segregation. Alternate dumping sites were explored and set up, and steps were taken to severely regulate the use of plastics.

However, logistical and infrastructural limitations have ensured that the progress on this matter on both governmental and social levels has been slow.

Mounds of waste and hazardous dumping sites continue to be an eyesore as well as a health risk for those who live nearby. Combined with the ongoing rains, it could mean renewed ravages of dengue. This was, of course, another crisis that occurred last year which claimed the lives of hundreds.

Countless complaints have fallen on deaf ears and last year, the residents of Meethotamulla paid the price in full. While the CMC and the Megapolis Ministry pass the buck on the issue, the public continue to grow impatient.

Garbage collection and the implementation of sustainable segregation habits need to be strictly enforced throughout the city with no exceptions. Awareness campaigns must also be stronger and far-reaching in order to foster a faster social attitudinal change. Greater public-private partnerships and better public engagement is also a valuable tool to use.

The Government has already kicked off several waste-to-energy plants, imported state-of-the-art incinerators, and planned new landfills. Its objective now has to be to pull these pieces of the puzzle together and turn it into a meaningful industry, which has been a tried-and-tested solution in many parts of the world.

The Government cannot continue to respond to these issues in the manner they have in the past. In fact, a response to these crises is exactly the problem. Kneejerk reactions give way to corruption and the exacerbation and creation of new problems. It is up to the State now to learn from experiences past and implement decisive regulations that prevent such crises and tragedies altogether.

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