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The garbage crisis refuses to go away

29 August 2019 01:35 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In our editorial on August 1, we focused on the container-loads of garbage consisting of industrial and clinical waste belonging to other countries being surreptitiously dumped or downloaded on Sri Lanka and its people in the midst of the ever-increasing garbage crisis in Sri Lanka. 

As it usually happens in Sri Lanka, whenever a crisis or crises crop up, there are several voices raised in protest inside and outside Parliament and in an effort to placate the protesters, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera instructed the Customs Director General to conduct an inquiry and submit a report on the basis that such imports were illegal and had been carried out without the express permission of the Central Environment Authority (CEA) and was a blatant violation of the Customs Ordinance, the Environment Act and the Basel Convention. 

He assured he would take strict action against those found guilty whoever or however highly connected they may be and said he had also instructed the relevant officials to explore the possibility of filing criminal charges against the importers because the punishment laid down in the Customs Ordinance was not sufficient for such a serious offence. But unfortunately in Sri Lanka, rarely if at all, is action taken against the miscreants, who emboldened by the lethargic attitude of the government, carry on their dastardly business as usual while little or nothing is heard about the matter thereafter.  

It is against this background that we today highlight another garbage crisis that is waiting to happen at the Aruwakkalu sanitary landfill project in Puttalam, which is already besieged by the fallout from the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant and the Cement Factories situated in the area.   

A report published in the Daily Mirror last week raised some pertinent questions as to whether this project was based on a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and whether it was carried out under proper technical guidance. According to the report the setting up of a sanitary landfill in Aruwakkalu was mooted in the wake of the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry (MaWDM) announcing that the garbage dump at Kerawalapitiya had exceeded its capacity resulting in added pressure on the collection and disposal of garbage by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).  

The Aruwakkalu sanitary landfill project was launched with much fanfare and was claimed by some as the best solution to the garbage crisis. But the project itself appears to be plagued by various snags since its inception with the World Bank’s offer to fund the project being side-lined and the US$100.9 million contract handed over to the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. (CHECC), which is also handling the Port City Project under the purview of the MaWDM, the DM report states.   

It states that subject Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka when asked why the World Bank pulled out said it had not submitted any such proposal and that the ministry would take the entire responsibility for constructing and maintaining the facility while it would be the CMC’s responsibility to collect, transport and unload the garbage in a scientific manner.   

The risks of such a landfill located just six kilometres from the Southern Boundary of the Wilpattu National Park exposes the risk of attracting wild animals including elephants while the Methane gas emissions exposes the villages located in the vicinity to risks of explosion, the report says.   

Meanwhile, a weekend newspaper highlighted a further twist to the garbage crisis with the Police being forced to provide special armed security escorts to fend off attacks by the Wanathavilluwa residents on the garbage convoys from Colombo making their way to the Aruwakkalu dump site.  

The residents complain that non-segregated garbage was being unloaded at the site even though Minister Ranawaka had assured them that only segregated and compacted garbage would be used as landfill. The residents also complain that though they had been previously informed that the garbage would be transported in trains, they now had to suffer the ugly consequences of having about 20 trucks of garbage, a day, travelling through their town and passing their homes spilling and leaking garbage on the roads.  

Be that as it may, how can we fault the Wanathavilluwa residents for protesting against the dumping of truck-loads of garbage collected from another province in their backyard? How justified is the government in doing so; be it a site selected after much deliberation or otherwise. 

In such a scenario what happens to the garbage collected in Puttalam itself? Where is that being dumped. Happening in the footsteps of container-loads of garbage from other countries being dumped in Sri Lanka, politicians and the powers that be may see nothing wrong in dumping Colombo’s garbage elsewhere.     

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