he National New Year’s day and Good Friday Meethotamulla mayhem or massacre reminds us of callous disregard or irresponsibility regarding the people’s lives by political authorities and other decision making bodies in Sri Lanka. It was not once or twice that alarm bells in Meethotamulla rang for those in power but repeatedly from the day garbage dumping was started there. Once the residents pleaded for the protection of their children’s education as the school near the garbage dump was filled with flies and skin diseases were spreading. It was reported that bad odour and health hazards made it difficult if not impossible for the children to study there. Then again they cried out as the health of the residents was being badly affected. Little or nothing was done, despite the availability of modern digital technology, until the death bell rang for 26 innocent people including children with about 20 more still feared dead and about 60 still missing and feared to be stuck in the rubble.
Now that the deadly man-made catastrophe has taken place, various public institutions are trying to pass the responsibility to the other. The authorities also claim that the people had been warned to leave the area and some were given Rs.15,000 a month as compensation. However this is contradicted by many residents.
Yet given the previous experiences of natural disasters in the past and how the government responded to them, it is not a surprise that people did not take seriously the promises of those in power. We know how the then government behaved after the country’s worst ever natural disaster, the Tsunami in 2004. There were people who were homeless even after ten years and even today there are those affected but were not properly compensated. The same story was repeated in 2014, when a tragic landslide took place at Koslanda in Meeriyabedda. The disaster claimed the lives of more than 30 people. The tragic landslide followed three consecutive days of rain, pushing houses about 300 meters from their original positions. Today, many of those victims are still displaced.
Immediately after this natural disaster, the whole nation grieved with the victims, who had to wait for days to see if their loved ones would be the next to be recovered by rescue teams. The political authorities promised the poverty-stricken survivors who lost the little they had, that they would be helped by providing them with new houses. But this was also a broken promise.
Then came the devastating landslide at Aranayake hill in Kegalle in May last year. The tragedy killed 127 people and many of those displaced still continue to languish in temporary camps in different degrees of degradation and destitution.
Adding to the list was the Salawa armoury blast that took place just one month after the Aranayaka tragedy. Most of the displaced and otherwise affected people are yet to receive compensation as promised by the government.
In such an unpredictable and untrustworthy backdrop, it is natural that the Meethotamulla people would not trust the promises of any government and leave their homes with their life’s savings and belongings. It was not that these people built their houses close to a garbage dumb but thousands of tons of garbage was dumped around them.
The worst is that politicians from major political parties protested with these people over the past few years and some were even elected to Parliament or Provincial councils. But they continue to betray their voters. News reports indicate that some politicians who tried to go to the scene after the disaster were hooted and people have openly warned that no politicians should visit the area.
Overall in the court of the sovereign people, most people would return the verdict that the former government and the present government were directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of about 20 people and those missing or feared dead. President Maithripala Sirisena is reported to have decided to intervene personally and the dumping of garbage at Meethotamulla has been stopped with immediate effect. The President reportedly has plans to destroy about 500 tons of this garbage daily. But the President, as the Minister of Environmental Affairs should have been fully aware of the possible catastrophe and we hope at least now the government will realise that care and concern for the people’s urgent needs should be given priority.