Responsive image
Sinhala site
Sinhala site

POSTED AT 02:15 PM 18-04-2017

An inauspicious New Year's day

A situation report on the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapse and its aftermath

Image courtesy: ONLANKA News

Highlights

  • At around 3.00 pm on 14th April, a part of the garbage mound at Meethotamulla collapsed and buried many houses and their occupants. The death toll as of now is 30.e
  • President Sirisena directed the Commandos of the Tri Forces, the Disaster Management Minister and the Inspector General of Police to look into the matter and take action. There were over 1000 rescue personal in total.
  • A special coordination committee was appointed by the President to look into the matter. Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe was put in charge of search and rescue.

Disrupting the joviality of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season festivities, a section of the Meethotamulla garbage dump in Kolonnawa collapsed on 14th April. While this incident was a shock to many, there have been signs of such a catastrophe occurring for quite some time now.

While rescue operations are still underway, the residents of the area and victims of the tragedy lament the ignorance and indifference of the relevant authorities.

 

An introduction

For the past thirty years, garbage from Kolonnawa, Kotikawatta and Mulleriyawa found their way to the Meethotamulla garbage dump. As per a Supreme Court ruling in 2008, garbage from all over the Colombo Municipal Council limits ended up here too. However, the court ruling stated that garbage be dumped only in an area of 2 acres, but the dump has now spread over 20 acres.

Around 800 tonnes of garbage is dumped daily. The dump stood  at a height of around 300 feet or 91 meters. Currently, the dump contains an estimated 3 million tons of garbage.

This has been a topic of much debate for a long time, especially since the fire that broke out on 21st March.

 

The collapse

Image courtesy: SLAF Media

At around 3.00 pm on 14th April, a 180 meter long and 75 meter wide part of the garbage mound at Meethotamulla collapsed, like a landslide, and buried as many as 145 houses and their occupants. 40 to 50 houses were crushed completely.

The affected areas include: Nagahamulla, Dahampura and Visithune Watta, Neilgewatta, and Daham Mawatha. Some parts are under 30 to 40 feet of garbage.

Simultaneously, a minor fire broke out as well. UNP MP Marikkar has stated previously that the gases evolving from decomposing garbage is highly inflammable.

 

Rescue operations

President Sirisena directed the Commandos of the Tri Forces, the Disaster Management Minister and the Inspector General of Police to look into the matter and take action.

“All institutions must carry out their tasks to ensure the safety of the people living in this area, to evacuate people living in areas that are at risk, providing them alternative housing, and ensure their welfare. There will be no shortcomings in financial provisions from the government to carry out the relief effort,” the President said.

Army personnel of the 14 Division of the Security Force Headquarters - West, Troops of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Commandos, Gemunu Watch and Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment and the Police Special Task Force (STF) are engaged in rescue operations. There were over 1000 of them in total.

Image courtesy: Colombo Gazette

The Sri Lanka Air Force deployed a Bell 212 helicopter with Bambi bucket to put out the fire, with another on stand by at Ratmalana Airport in case of emergency.

A Bambi Bucket is a specialised bucket suspended on a cable carried by a helicopter to deliver water for aerial firefighting. When the helicopter is in position, the crew releases the water to extinguish the fire below.

The Inspector General of Police and the Commander of the Sri Lankan Army examined the damage on 14th April morning. They also visited the displace residents and asked of their well being.

The public was requested to keep away from the Meethotamulla garbage dump since they may hinder rescue operation. The Ministry of Power and Energy announced that the area would experience power cuts, and electricity would be provided via generators.

Rescue operations will continue until 19th April, or till every place was searched.

 

Aftermath

The death toll is at 30 at the time of writing this article, 6 children and 4 teenagers among them. 30 more are missing.

Sunil Kannangara, the Colombo District Secretary, revealed that 980 people from 228 families have been displaced, adding that around 80 houses were destroyed.

Police Headquarters and Armed Forces report  that 625 people were displaced, 180 families were affected and 145 houses were damaged.

All injured victims were taken to the Colombo National Hospital, where 12 are receiving treatment currently.

The displaced continue to take shelter at Terrence N. De Silva Maha Vidyalaya, Kolonnawa and two storage facilities belonging to the Paddy Marketing Board.

A special relief centre was established at the Meethotamulla Sri Rahula Vidyalaya, where people can report missing persons.

 

Funerals

President Sirisena declared that the state would bear all expenses for the funeral rites of those who passed away due to the collapse. Compensation will also be handed to grieving family members.

Image courtesy: Daily FT

On 16th April, the last rites of 6 victims were observed at the Kolonnawa Raja Maha Viharaya. The final rites for a family of four were observed at the Kolonnawa Public Cemetery. Two more were observed at the Kotikawatta Public Cemetery, Colombo.

 

A special committee

A special coordination committee was appointed by the President, at a meeting held at the Colombo Municipal Council on 15th April, to look into the matter and discuss the overall garbage disposal system in Colombo city.

Ministers Susil Premajayantha, Patali Champika Ranawaka, A H M Fowzie, Dr Harsha de Silva, Sagala Ratnayake, Mohan Lal Grero, MPs S M Marikkar and Mujibur Rahman, Army Commander and the IGP and all relevant government officials were present.

Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe was put in charge of search and rescue. The Colombo District Secretary is in charge of all administrative coordination matters.

V. K. Anura, the Colombo Municipal Commissioner, plans to meet Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, the Minister of Disaster Management. He vowed to ‘leave no room for garbage to pile up in the city of Colombo.’

 

International Aid  - Japan and Vietnam extend helping hands

Image courtesy: GirlTalkHQ

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe telephoned Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and expressed his condolences. Japan will help Sri Lanka in the relief operations sending over a technical team of experts.

Meanwhile, Trần Đại Quang, the President of Vietnam, expressed his condolences and promised to provide assistance. PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is currently visiting Vietnam, will be cutting short his visit and returning to Sri Lanka on 19th April.


 

Damage evaluation report

A committee was set up to asses the property and other damagers incurred due to the collapse. Sunil Kannangara, the Colombo District Secretary, said that the report will be compiled within five days, starting from 17th April.

 

Protests against the garbage dump

Image courtesy: NewsFirst

“A problem running for decades, perhaps as long as 20 years, came to a head yesterday with the collapse of a part of the garbage mountain,” Dr Harsha de Silva said.

Attorney At Law Nuwan Bopage, the chairman of the People's Movement Against the Kolonnawa Garbage Dump, said, “this was a gold mine for the politicians in the past. The Colombo Municipal Council awarded a tender worth Rs. 600 million at Rs. 800 million and made sure the other Rs. 200 million when into the pockets of the politicians.”  

He alleged that politicians were making money from the dump, and were not heeding the people’s pleas to remove it. He explained that the Mayor of Kolonnawa allegedly gets a commission per truck of garbage dumped there.

 

Living off the garbage dump

On the flip side of the coin, there are many people who make a livelihood off the garbage, by selling plastic bottles and polythene. They grew up near the garbage dump, and have got accustomed to that way of life.

However, it is reported that there is a mafia controlling the collection and selling of salvageable garbage from the mound, making it hard to implement a proper system of recycling.

 

Solutions

R. M. S. Bandara, the Head of the Geology and Earth Studies Division of the Organisation, declared the Meethotamulla area a high risk zone. The National Building Research Organisation took steps to relocate 130 families with residences within the high risk zone.

Harsha de Silva, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, said on 15th April that no more garbage would be dumped at Meethotamulla, since two alternate locations have been identified instead.

Sanitary landfills are available in Dompe, which is already functioning, and Aruwakkalu, off Puttalam which is still to be constructed.  Future projects are planned at Jaffna, Anuradhapura, Hikkaduwa and Medirigiriya, which are currently at the design and tender stage.

Image courtesy:  ipm construction and development corporation - Weebly

A sanitary landfill is a site where waste is isolated from the environment till standardized  safe conditions are achieved, by degrading waste biologically, chemically and physically. More information on this topic can be found here and here.

At Meethotamulla, a land area of about 150m X 75m is being carefully cleaned up of garbage, under an infrastructure plan. The garbage will be transferred to the Dompe and Karadiyana landfill sites.

Source