Government seeks space for trash : Agony continues.. | Sunday Observer

Government seeks space for trash : Agony continues..

Ajith 24, at the moment could simply be described only as depressed and miserable. He is among a few that lost every member of the family. Ajith had momentarily left home that afternoon last Friday when he heard the news that several houses have collapsed and were buried under the garbage.

The event took place between 2 .30 – 3 in the afternoon. Ajith who was frantically trying to locate his house and other family members could not even see his home. But, what will mostly haunt him for the rest of his life would be the phone call that he received from his father.

The father who was still alive under the rubble, called out to Ajith and pleaded to save him. “Of course, he didn’t know where he was as the land had shifted a few meters. None of the houses were found to be where they were originally situated, as the impact of the explosion moved the earth.” Ajith recalls bitterly.

He explains that he never felt so helpless or miserable. “There was nothing I could do,” he laments.

Among the many complaints the victims of this tragedy have voiced the most, and the main one is that responding to the event was very slow. Although many had arrived at the site no steps were taken at least until towards late in the night, to recover anyone.

“No one sent a backhoe machine or any other equipment soon enough to start the recovery process. We had to bring one of the backhoes used at the garbage dump and started to move the rubble,” says Ajith. A majority of the fully and partially affected families are housed at Terence College, Kolonnawa, at present.

The premises showcased active people and children running around. A medical camp that was situated was housed with doctors’ assistance and medicine prepared for any emergency as well as minor headaches.

The two televisions that had been set up in the premises were surrounded by the victims. One aired news and was dishing out the newest developments of the incident while the other carried a tense political debate- several politicians trying to blame each other for the events that took place, and failing to initiate a better garbage disposal method.

M. M Kabeeba is another resident who was living in close proximity to the garbage dump. Her home has been partially damaged due to the collapsing of the garbage dump. The walls and floor of the house cracked to a great extent. We were told to take all belongings and leave the house.

Explaining the practical difficulties in living in the school, she said there are hygiene, sanitary and most importantly privacy that causes problems.

“This is a very distressing situation that we are in, and it is not easy to live like this. We urge the government to provide us with housing as early as possible. Our house was damaged and the remaining garbage mound can collapse over the house. We were asked to vacate immediately with our belongings. We were told to find places to keep our belongings and that we could take shelter in the school.”

Although they had been told that a payment of Rs 10,000 will be given to cover the expenses of transporting their belongings, so far no payment has been made.

“I wish the government will give us housing rather than monetary compensation.” Kabeeba said.

Kabeeba explains that she came to live in the area 22 years back and started her family soon after. “I have been living here for the past 22 years. At the time I had my children this dump was in a very small plot of land and never very high. My children and the garbage dump grew simultaneously.

When asked if housing was provided in a different area,whether she would go, Kabeeba said she’s willing to move.

However, Maniwel Nisroshini, 21, preparing for her G.C.E A/L examinations, was not of the same view.

“This is the place we have grown up in, we can’t move out of this area. This is our neighbourhood, our schools and friends are within the area, so if we are given houses it should be here,” said Niroshini.

Recalling how both her sisters were severely affected by dengue twice and how they had a narrow escape Niroshini says many children living around the garbage dump were constantly susceptible to illnesses and infections.

She is of the view that security and neighbours is something that would need to be considered if they are moved into new housing, even within the area.

However, the school can only shelter the victims at most for another two weeks, as second term in the school calendar is scheduled to start.

Whoever takes shelter at the school has now been asked to relocate us to the paddy storage facility in Kolonnawa.

“It was said in the news that we would be given houses by June. It is difficult to live in the paddy stores.” Niroshini said, worrying what the next few weeks would have in store for them.

Many complain that a few who have not been affected have crept into these shelter camps under the guise of being victims. It is crucial that authorities adopt a proper screening procedure to evade such instances and ensure that people who are affected and in need of compensation are given attention.

As the situation in Meethotamulla continues to remain, local government authorities have had to find alternative

garbage dumping grounds to rid the cities of the growing garbage mounds in the past week. However, attempts to dump the collected garbage in the suburbs of Colombo has been met with hostility by residents of the respective areas.

As a result, protests were held in Karadiyana against the dumping of garbage in the already existing garbage dump while another protest was held in Wattala against dumping garbage in the Muthurajawela reserve. Meanwhile another public protest was held in the Dompe area this week against bringing in garbage collected from Colombo to the recycling plant located in the area.

The voice of all residents seemed to echo similar sentiments. ¨No to Colombo´s Garbage!¨ the placards held by the protestors read with many claiming that allowing of more garbage to be dumped in the area will only increase the current problematic situation faced by them and mightresult in another tragedy similar to Meethotamulla. Despite a court order preventing protests against the dumping of garbage in Karadiyana, the residents however, yesterday decided to once again voice their dissent by organizing yet another protest.

¨We are worried the courts will further allow the authorities to dump garbage in Karadiyana going beyond the 11 days allowed¨ says Mahesh Wickrama, a resident of the area.

According to Wickrama, the garbage dump in Karadiyana has negatively affected the residents in many ways.

¨We can’t cook or have our meals in peace” he says adding that the flies and smell are extremely off putting. Wickrama says that residents have had to face great difficulties in doing simple day to day activities.

¨There is now a social stigma attached to living so close to a garbage dump¨ he says, explaining that it has become impossible for the unmarried in the area to even secure a marriage proposal due to being residents in Karadiyana.

¨People refuse to even visit the homes of prospective partners when they find out that we live near the garbage dump¨ he says adding that it is also impossible to sell the land owned by them.

¨The land has no value now¨ Wickrama says. According to him their only request is that the government should respect their right to live a normal life.

¨The garbage dump has robbed us of this and we do not want more garbage to be dumped here from other areas as well¨ he says claiming they will continue to protest against it.