Colombo Municipality Dumps Waste Creating Public Health Risk | Print edition

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Residents fear the dump will collapse. Photo by MD Nissanka

By Renishka Fernando

A huge mountain of rubbish hangs over the road to Madampitiya. A faded sign reading ‘Do not litter here’ is hidden by rubbish dumped by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and passers-by on either side of a side road on the right side of Madampitiya Road.

The residents are not happy.

“At 6 p.m. there are so many mosquitoes that we can’t stay inside or outside the house,” said Nazeeth, 62, who prefers to be called by his first name.

He has lived in Madampitiya for 24 years. While initially a residential area, the houses were demolished and the land reclaimed by the Urban Development Authority (UDA), which provided residents with houses from six housing projects: Sathhiru Sevana, Helamuthu Sevana, Mihijaya Sevana, Ranmithu Sevana, Methsanda Sevana and Randiya Uyana.

However, there are a few shacks housing people who did not receive homes from the program and a few other shacks store segregated garbage that some residents sell for a living.

The construction of this landfill, which is a few meters from Mr. Nazeeth’s house, comes just after the Bloemendhal landfill was partially cleared by the authorities. Smell, rats, flies and mosquitoes are just some of the health risks.

The smell is unbearable not to mention the health hazards, locals say

“It’s a nuisance to the public.”

The smell is unbearable, locals say.

The dump continues to rise higher. According to Mr. Nazeeth, the garbage is leveled and flattened to make room for more trash.

“Even though there are health risks, we make a living from this dump. We eat money we get from sorting rubbish,” said Ms Nirosha, who was only willing to share her first name.

The 21-year-old is a mother of two children aged six months and six years. Her father has been picking up garbage since she was little. He climbs the dump every day and separates the glass and polythene waste, then sells it to shops for a living.

Although Ms. Nirosha and her family are used to this lifestyle, she is worried about her children.

On rainy days, her children have to wade through the mud. The smell is unbearable.

Although there are fears the landfill could collapse, residents have not complained to the CMC, the Central Environment Authority (CEA) or the police.

They believe their calls will go unheard like those of the residents of Meethotamulla where the massive landfill collapsed causing fatalities.

Mr Nazeeth and Ms Nirosha said that even if they complain, the local authorities will not take any action.

Ms. Shahina Mysan, Director of Solid Waste Management at CMC, said, “We are looking at several options as some of the waste cannot be sent to the Kerawalapitiya waste-to-energy plant. The mayor and commissioner had been notified and plans are underway to find another suitable site.

Methods to separate the soil and the polythene are being considered so that the soil can be reused for agriculture and the latter can be sent to Kerawalapitiya.

CMC officials declined further comment regarding the height and area of ​​the dump site and the length of time Madampitiya had been used to dump waste.

Ms Mysan said the Sunday Times that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) had not been carried out at Madampitiya.

She admits there are public health risks.

The opinion is useless because the discharge grows day by day

“If we don’t dump non-degradable waste there, the streets of Colombo will be filled with garbage and the city will be polluted.”

“We don’t do EIAs for landfills. We only do them for approved projects like Kerawalapitiya Waste-to-Energy Plant,” said Mr. Upali Indrarathne, Deputy General Manager of Waste Management.

During rains, chemicals, plastics and polyethylene from the landfill flow into sewers, polluting nearby water bodies with heavy metals and other hazardous wastes. The ground is polluted.

“The CMC commits three offenses by littering. The first is illegal dumping and pollution of soil and water, are the second and third,” said Dr. Ravindranath Dabare, president of the Center for Environmental Justice.

He said damages can be claimed under the polluter pays principle.

There are several legal remedies people can take.

Under Article 98 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, when a project or activity causes or threatens to cause imminent danger to the health of an affected party, any person on behalf of the injured party may apply to the trial court and obtain a nil order against the CJC.

An aggrieved party may also apply to the district court and obtain an injunction against the CMC or a private party.

In addition, under the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal, a writ of mandamus may be sought against the CEA and the CMC. The writ of mandamus is an order compelling the governmental authority to exercise its functions. The police can also intervene in the event of soil and water pollution.

“Lack of awareness of available legal measures and environmental conservation is a serious problem,” said Dr Dabare.

“We should have a comprehensive plan to deal with the accumulation of waste,” said Dr Jagath Gunawardana, who has worked in environmental conservation for 44 years. According to him, the first step in waste disposal is segregation before orderly disposal.

People who sort garbage must be provided with protective equipment and sanitary facilities.

The irresponsibility and negligence of officials in charge of waste management are important problems.

Dr Gunawardana said the problem of garbage should be solved by local authorities – city and town councils and sabhas pradeshiya.

He noted that elected officials in these bodies are not aware of their duties and responsibilities.

“We need to elect the right officials, until then the blame will be shifted from one authority to another. The functions of CEA are hampered by political intervention,” Dr. Gunawardana said.

Under Section 12 of the National Environment Act, the Minister must approve the course of action that the CEA will take in issuing a directive against the local government authority that fails to comply with its duties and responsibilities.

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