Residents of Kuda Bandaranayakapura | (Pics by Chandana Wijesinghe)

Shanty-dwellers live in constant fear that authorities may ask them to leave their homes. While this is their main problem, it certainly isn’t their only problem. When speaking to the shanty dwellers at Kuda Bandaranayakapura, The Nation learnt that they also face huge problems with drainage in the area.

“The only way water can drain out of the area is a small drain between two concrete walls. This is not sufficient for the water to drain out quickly”

A resident of Kuda Bandaranayakapura, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the only way water can drain out of the area is a small drain between two concrete walls. This is not sufficient for the water to drain out quickly, and it takes a long time for water collected from a light rain to flow to the canal just outside the shanties.

“The place is flooded even after a light rain,” residents said, pointing at the high front-steps of their houses, explaining they had to raise the level of their houses, so water wouldn’t gush in when it rained. When asked if the situation was always like this, residents said that the water drained out better before the construction of an apartment complex right next to the shanties.

While drainage is at the top of their list of problems, shanty-dwellers face other problems, especially regarding toilet facilities. Due to drainage problems, the rainy season is a night-mare for shanty-dwellers.

“When it rains, the entire area floods and the worms and waste from the toilets come to the surface,” Achala said. This makes one wonder just how bad toilet facilities are in shanties and low-income communities.

Ramiah lives in a low-income housing scheme in Wadugodawatta, Wellampitiya. He said that most houses in the area have a toilet and running water, and there are no more public or shared toilets in the area. “Some people have commodes and tiled toilets, but others only have squatting pans. Similarly, some have separate taps for the toilets while others don’t,” Ramiah further said.

“We have adequate toilet facilities in the flat itself and garbage is collected regularly. I have no complaints about that. However, it’s up to the occupants to keep their toilets clean,” Rizvi, who lives in Mihindu Senpura Housing Scheme, Dematagoda. When asked if there are public or shared toilets in the housing scheme, Rizvi said they no longer have any as if the toilets are public or shared, people fight over them and don’t keep the place clean.
While Ramiah and Rizvi need not worry about garbage disposal, cleanliness of toilets and drainage, the situation is vastly different in the shanties in Kuda Bandaranayakapura. According to residents, there is no water in the public toilets and no major maintenance is done because the people live in uncertainty about when the houses will be broken down.

When questioned if they have spoken to the relevant authorities of the issues, the residents of Kuda Bandaranayakapura said they have, but that necessary action is yet to be taken. “When we complain, they come and look around the place, but that’s all they do. Even if something is done, the low quality and standard means that our problems aren’t solved,” residents said.

Public drainage system
By law, only rainwater can be directed to the public drainage system, said Public Health Inspectors’ Union President, MG Upul Rohana said. He explained that waste water from houses can’t be discharged to the public drains, but that 90 percent of what’s in the public drainage system are from houses, commercial buildings and factories.

This happens in many areas, and The Nation learnt that waste water is disposed to the main drainage system by some Kuda Bandaranayakapura residents. A resident who wished to remain anonymous said that some people dispose the waste from toilets into the main drainage pipes. “Not all people do this, but some do. This isn’t right and it’s bad for the people who live near the drains,” she said.

“Ideally, the waste water should be filtered at a treatment plant, but this doesn’t happen in Sri Lanka,” Upul Rohana said. Thus it is untreated waste water that is discharged to the drainage system of the country and the main reason for this, Upul Rohana said, is the incompetence of authorities who have been appointed to approve plans for buildings under the Housing and Town Improvement Ordinance and Urban Development Act.
“When a plan is drawn for a house, it must indicate how the waste water will be disposed of, for instance to a septic tank. If the authorities are pleased with the plan, they will approve it. Despite this measure, most don’t dispose waste water properly,” Upul Rohana explained. He added that the authorities too fail to act under the Town Improvement Ordinance or Urban Development Act.

“Local government bodies don’t properly dispose of garbage or waste water,” Upul Rohana said and he explained how this leads to many health issues, including the spread of polio, diseases spread through mosquito bites, for instance Japanese Encephalitis and leptospirosis (rat fever). “Additionally, when waste water is discharged to the country’s water supply, human excreta can get mixed with the water,” he said.

While the residents of Kuda Bandaranayakapura have spoken to the authorities about issues regarding drainage, a solution is yet to be given to these people. When The Nation spoke to the Urban Development Authority, they said drainage doesn’t come under their purview and is thus, none of their business.

While the Public Health Inspectors seem to be concerned about waste-water disposal of the country, Upul Rohana said they cannot take direct action, regarding waste-water disposal. “Under the Food Act, public health inspectors can take action against wrongdoers. However, not all Acts give us this power. We don’t have the authority to take action against those who dispose of waste water properly,” Upul Rohana said.

Making matters worse is the fact that even if public health inspectors follow necessary procedures so action is taken against wrongdoers, authorities can interfere with the process. Thus the authorities seem to not follow the country’s law and guidelines related to drainage and waste water. and fail to ensure waste water isn’t discharged to the main drainage system of the country. While this is a concern to the nation’s people, residents of Kuda Bandaranayakapura continue to wait for a solution to the drainage problems in their area.