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Old problem of garbage


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The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has sought the assistance of police to arrest anyone who dumps garbage illegally, and has decided to stop collecting non-segregated waste. The move comes as complaints of the CMC refusing to remove garbage return, less than five months after the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry proudly claimed that the garbage problem in Colombo had been solved.

How is it, that even after the Meethotamulla tragedy, greater resources, international expertise and Government attention, that garbage still continues to be a problem in Sri Lanka? Simply put, the State struggles to implement sustainable policies that provide holistic solutions over the long-term. Not just for garbage, but other issues as well: from power supply to poverty reduction, public frustration is growing because the Government is unable to put its plans into action in such a way that it actually provides solutions, at least for several years. It is the inability to have sustainable policies that has hampered Sri Lanka’s development, arguably more than anything else in the post-war period, and the inability of politicians and public servants to coordinate their efforts and get things done is a frustration that is wearing out public patience fast.

Piles of garbage combined with rain could bring renewed ravages of dengue. Readers need not be reminded of the havoc wrecked by the combination last year, and how, after much panic, pressure and resources, the issue was finally brought under control - but not before hundreds of lives were lost. When a Government waits till the last minute to act, or does not provide incremental solutions, its knee-jerk reactions can do more harm than good. This is how corruption can sneak in, or valuable wetlands can be demarcated to become garbage dumps, as has been the fate of Muthurajawela. Yet it would seem that these lessons have not been learnt.

From the public’s perspective, it is discouraging to have to face these situations again and again, and have their appeals and counsel fall on deaf ears.  It does not matter to them that the CMC and Megapolis Ministry are battling to shift the blame to each other: they simply want solutions. When countries around the world have dealt successfully with this issue, the Government cannot continue to spew excuses and concentrate only on politics.

Sri Lanka’s population is approximately 21 million, which generates 2.3 million tonnes of garbage annually (6,400 tonnes of solid waste per day according to Ministry of Environment – 2013). Compared to countries like Australia, Sri Lanka produces a tiny amount of solid waste, but is still unable to manage it. Therefore it is essential that the Government gets its act together on this issue and provides coordinated and sustainable solutions.

While the Government has kicked off several waste-to-energy plants, imported state-of-the-art incinerators, and planned new landfills, it has done little to pull these fragmented efforts into an industry, which is how it is handled in other parts of the world. The CMC contends that people are failing to sort the garbage, making it harder to process its removal, but how are these issues dealt with in other countries? Why can there not be strong awareness messages, enforcement of laws and sustainable policies? Greater public-private partnerships and better public engagement? Sustainable solutions are the bedrock of good public service.  

 


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