SL - JAPAN TEAM FIGHT GARBAGE WAR | Sunday Observer

SL - JAPAN TEAM FIGHT GARBAGE WAR

There are strong indications that the lives lost and tears shed at Meethotamulla would not be in vain. In spite of the despicable blame game, a genuine effort is being taken to help victims rise from the ashes.

A comprehensive scientific study at the trash mountain was conducted within days by the state institutions led by a Japanese expert team.

The Megapolis and Western Development Ministry, in addition, was able to provide houses for victims who lived in 95 partially and fully damaged houses, in an amazingly short span. Only three families are left to accept their new homes as of last week. That deserves commendation. Although the people had apprehensions about the condition of the houses at Saalamulla housing scheme, by now many of the ‘re-located’ seem to have settled down.

A disaster management ministry official said a few families who had been living in their ancestral homes near the garbage mound had rightful claims for better houses - their property was worth more than Rs.4 million. A survey is being carried out by the Survey Department to formulate a compensation scheme.

There’s no argument that the deaths could have been prevented if successive governments did their part. The trash mountain was indeed a symbol of indifference and injustice by the authorities. Yet, this is not the time for a blame game. After entire families got wiped out, leaving one or two survivors without anybody to fend for them, help should not be lost in mere arguments.

At present, the government is faced with the challenge of re-locating the residents living in the NBRO demarcated danger zone to keep them out of harm’s way. For this purpose the Army is building temporary homes in a warehouse close by and the families are currently accommodated at temples and schools.

Residents have already revolted against this decision to send them to a warehouse over justifiable fears. They claim that once the heat is over all pledges for better dwellings will be forgotten. Unless otherwise addressed, this fear might turn them into political pawns, making relocation even more difficult.

Weighed down by the gravity of the New Year day disaster, the government is looking for solutions to the trash war. It has been advised that quite a few trash mountains islandwide need quick solutions. Hence the dumping sites in Piliyandala, Kandy, Gampola, Matara, Kalutara, Galle, Gampaha, Peliyagoda and Kelaniya, etc need alternative solutions. Already the Kandy trash mound has grown into dangerous proportions and needs immediate intervention, the media was told at a press conference at the Megapolis Ministry recently.

Currently several institutions including the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry, Disaster Management Ministry and the National Building Research Organisation helped by the Army are playing a crucial role in stabilizing the garbage mound at Meetotamulla as directed by the NBRO and the visiting Japanese technical team.

The Japanese expert team invited by the Government arrived within days, assessed the possible cause of the collapse and made recommendations for the safe management of the site and measures for stabilization in short term and longer term.

A technological giant, Japan had been fighting a similar ‘garbage war’ up to the 1990s. In the 1960s there were demonstrations against a massive dumping site in capital Tokyo. Japan was generating 110 million tons of solid waste in 1990. By 2014, due to new waste management techniques adopted, the generated solid waste was reduced to less than 20 million tons.

The Japanese government has offered to help Sri Lanka in finding a permanent solution for managing solid waste.

The technical team’s preliminary observations and recommendations were handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last Monday. While sketching the short term, medium term and long term solutions, the report has emphasised the need to introduce 3R in waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. A comprehensive report outlining long term solutions will be submitted by the Japanese team in one month.

The stabilization work at the site will continue for the next five months. The Megapolis and Western Development Ministry has appointed three committees - experts committee, engineering committee and operations committee- for this purpose and the work implemented in 12 tiers includes:

= Draining out water trapped inside the dump – commenced on April 18

= Draining out water stagnated in the toe area as a pool – commenced on April 18

= Draining out water seeping from the dump – commenced on April 19 and finished within a week

= Open-stand pipe piezometers to be installed to monitor pressure development - April 22

= Displacement monitoring – April 24

= Identification of danger zones and evacuation – already completed

= Debris removal and stabilization of toe area – up to 5 months

= Control of possible fire break out – fire brigade and 3 Forces kept on call for 5 months

= Continuous monitoring of scientific data at the dump by drone mounted sensors and techniques like wetness, crack propagation, water conveyance, thermal images, methane, CO and H2S gases – up to 5 months

= Early warning system – up to 5 months

= Preparation of report on failure, to compliment rehabilitation work

= Action plan road map for phase 2

 

Contrary to rumours and speculations that an explosion triggered by high methane levels around the dump had brought part of the trash mound down killing 32 people on New Year day, investigations have so far confirmed that the methane (CH4) levels at the site were less than 2%.

“To trigger an explosion, the CH4 levels needs to be in the rage of 5 %-15%”, Moratuwa University Senior lecturer Dr. Mahesh Jayaweera said. Dr. Jayaweera and several other scientists from the Moratuwa University and Peradeniya University including Dr. Manju Gunawardena have teamed up with the Ministry to complete the work on stabilizing the trash mountain to prevent a further collapse, as per the short term plan of the government.

Soon after the catastrophe, rumours spread like wildfire that the CH4 levels at the collapsed site were at dangerous proportions and the mound could explode any moment. Such irresponsible claims created panic among the people and the officials condemned rumour mongers.

Dr. Jayaweera said even though there was no threat of an explosion, the danger is not over yet. Scientists have found disturbingly high carbon monoxide (CO) levels in the Meethotamulla dump site. As a result the site is highly flammable. “The CO gas will not cause an explosion but it can cause a fire,” he said.

Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said once the stabilization of the dump is completed, they would move on to the next phase to reduce the maximum height of the dump by 20 metres and shaping it to mild slopes not exceeding 450 degrees. At present, the summit of the dump stands at 48.5 metres. “The mound is currently highly unstable to do any earthwork or operate heavy machinery by the Army to flatten it,” Dr. Manju Gunawardena said.

The military has completed covering the dump with special polythene, Low Density Poly Ethylene (LDPE) sheets to stop rain water infiltration and prevent a possible collapse during the rainy season next month. The Minister said under the long term plan, which would commence within 6-9 months, the Ministry is hoping to introduce Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) technology to reduce the garbage dump through material recovery processing. Thereafter the sorted waste will be incinerated.

The stabilized and rehabilitated dump will be converted into another beneficial use. In Japan such conversion of dumping sites had taken about three years to complete.

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