Trash avalanche over Sripada trail | Sunday Observer

Trash avalanche over Sripada trail

Sri Lanka Army’s 3rd Battalion of the Sinha Regiment and the Sri Lanka, National Guard were left to deal with clearing up the garbage and the debris.  (Pix: Ranga Udugama)
Sri Lanka Army’s 3rd Battalion of the Sinha Regiment and the Sri Lanka, National Guard were left to deal with clearing up the garbage and the debris. (Pix: Ranga Udugama)

The landslides destroyed a large number of steps leading to the Uda Maluwa while its force had twisted the iron railings that had been long installed to support travellers and pilgrims. The owners of a stall located on the trail had been alerted to the danger by the first landslide, and had only just escaped with their lives as they fled to higher ground. While the area was left without electricity and water, no serious harm has been caused due to it being the off-season period to scale Sri Pada, the site receiving only a small number of visitors daily during this period. According to villagers, lives could have been lost if it had been the Sri Pada season, with thousands of pilgrims arriving from across the country to pay their respects at the sacred site.

But, what has now been left behind is a scene of chaos. For several days while the trail was impassable the site took the appearance of a garbage dump collapse, rather than a landslide. Along with the landslide, large mounds of garbage consisting of plastic and polythene had come crashing down, with the armed forces and volunteers having to first clear the garbage before they could proceed to clear the path from mud and debris.

According to Muttu, a villager who had assisted in the clean up, six large sacks of rubber slippers were collected at the site in one day alone, while foreigners were also seen assisting them to bring the collected plastic bottles and polythene to the bottom of the peak. “When I visited the site I cried,” says Muttu who was upset at seeing the amount of garbage that had collapsed during the landslide. He says, the destruction caused to the holy site is an unbearable sight to villagers such as him.

Tirelessly

With this tragic site leading up to unconfirmed reports circulating that the landslide was caused by the improperly discarded garbage, around 40 soldiers from the Sri Lanka Army’s 3rd Battalion of the Sinha Regiment and the Sri Lanka, National Guard were left to deal with clearing up the garbage and the debris. Over the past four days, the soldiers involved in the cleanup have been working tirelessly according to the officer in charge of the task. From 7am to nightfall, the soldiers could even be seen working during the rain, with the Army and the Police providing them the necessary meals. According to the Army, the cleanup task would require three more days of work while the steps and railings will have to be repaired thereafter.

With the soldiers working tirelessly, the pathway will be restored in time for the Sri Pada season beginning in December.

Collapse

But, the question remains, among interested parties, with many wondering if the landslide was a natural occurrence or yet another garbage-dump collapse. According to an officer of the Nuwara Eliya District office of the National Building Research Organization, (NBRO) a team of officers from the organization are yet to visit the site. “We are unable to confirm but the reports are that it is a collapse of accumulated garbage” the officer said, speaking in lieu of the District Officer who was not available for comment. While the investigation into the incident will be conducted next week according to the source, the reason for the landslide will only be confirmed following the visit, the officer said. Although the NBRO says, the area is not a high risk zone for landslides, nevertheless, heavy rains forecast by the Department of Meteorology for the following days have caused concern among the villagers.

While the cause of the collapse still remains unclear, observing the site of the landslide, environmentalists have put forward a possible theory. The landslide appears to have began at the bottom of the area known as the Bhagava Lena.

While this cave was discovered in 2012 the trees and shrub had been cleared during the time to reveal the cave. The landslide had occurred in the cleared area, which could have possibly contributed to it.

Nevertheless, the landslide has also revealed the extent of the garbage issue in Sri Pada. Collected plastic from last season lie piled up along the route while other types of garbage also could be found strewn about. Environmentalist and Lawyer Jagath Gunawardene says, a proper garbage disposal system needs to be implemented to resolve the issue. “Even though it may not have contributed to the landslide the garbage continues to be a problem,” he says. ‘A long term solution needs to be found’.

According to him it is negatively affecting the ecosystem of the Sri Pada reserve. “Volunteers have always been relied upon to remove the garbage and it is questionable how funds allocated by the government for the same have been utilized,” he says. However Gunawardene also pointed out the responsibility of the people. “The responsibility of the people cannot be neglected,” Gunawardene says. He says, littering should be avoided and the trash discarded in a methodical manner.

 

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