It’s been over two weeks since the fatal collapse of a garbage mountain in Meethotamulla and yet the Government seems no closer to resolving the problem at its root. All solutions that have been offered up in the public domain are simply extensions of what was being done prior to the incident in Meethotamulla, with any meaningful solutions only seemingly possible at some indeterminate point in the future.
This past week residents of Bopitiya were up in arms as garbage was dumped in Muthurajawela, an area which is part of a wildlife sanctuary. Residents, along with environmentalists, say the area has become heavily contaminated after several days of dumping by the Colombo Municipal Council. As a response to this the Army is expected to prepare a short-term sanitary landfill over the next month. These however are but short-term solutions, a literal shifting of the problem even, to a problem that has been a long time coming.
The fact of the matter is 700 metric tonnes of garbage generated in the early ’90s in the Colombo metropolitan area has now quadrupled. At the national level, more than 40,000 tonnes of hazardous waste is being produced per annum. Solid and hazardous waste is unloaded into open dumps, causing serious health hazards, and being burnt in the open air, where they cause land and water pollution. During the last two decades, dumping destroyed almost all the wetlands around Colombo. Animals perished choking on garbage and those who care to protest were given the cold shoulder or hauled away by the Police.
The Government believes that waste can be reduced to 400 metric tonnes if the garbage is separated and domestic waste composted. However, environmentalists charge that although a waste management policy has been in the hands of the Environment Ministry since 1996, it is still on hold. Due to this failure, no systematic waste collection is available in Sri Lanka. Those who collect material for reuse have been discouraged by the Government as there is no policy implementation. Even newspaper is being imported as wrapping paper. Except for a few items, there is no glass bottle collection in the country. All glass bottles in the bottling industry have been converted to Plastic (PET) bottles. Paper or cement bags are not collected as there is no market for them due to the use of shopping bags.
Further, there are no regulations or standards for the disposal of used electronic items and waste. Local authorities claim they have no money, with successive budgets paying scant attention to funds needed for effective garbage disposal systems.
Meanwhile, as the days tick over from the Meethotamulla collapse, the presence of garbage piled up on the side of the road and outside houses on Colombo’s outskirts becomes an ever more common sight.
It is quite frankly astounding to think of the level of short-sightedness successive governments must have had for this problem not to have been addressed.
The warning signs have been evident to those who cared to see and yet we wait. We wait for this Government, or the next, to finally get their act together and push through legislation as hastily and urgently as they push through tenders for construction projects, but maybe don’t hold your breath.