The real garbage dump

For the people living in Ekala,Ja Ela,garbage has become a critical issue in their life,  since their environs have been subjected to big time garbage dumping. The compost plant belonging to Ja Ela Pradeshiya Sabha is located in Ekala behind the Heartland Residencies, where the garbage collected from the Ja Ela Pradeshiya Sabha is recycled to make compost. In addition, lands in Ekala have been identified to relocate the Meethotamulla garbage dump.

The compost plant belonging to Ja Ela Pradeshiya Sabha is the site where garbage collected in the area is brought and sorted into biodegradable and non biodegradable material. A worker who wished to remain anonymous said, on average, about seven tractor loads of garbage reach the site per day, where,  degradable and non degradable material in almost equal quantities,  are sorted. The degradable material is used to make compost and the non degradable material is sent to the cement plant in Puttalam.

The degradable material is cured for three months until compost is formed before packing. The plant is located on a land of about three acres and employs 10 workers and two watchers who  are given safety masks, boots and uniforms by the government, in addition to medical checkups roughly every six months.

But this apparently benevolent compost plant has its dark side, says residents of Heartland Residencies as well as the villagers from the area. Diriya PuravasiSamithiya, Secretary, MMT Rajarathna told us the compost plant is actually located on the border of Ja Ela and Katana Pradeshiya Sabhas. “Although it belongs to Ja Ela, it borders Kalu Ela, beyond which lies the villages of Weliganeliya, Gurugewatta, Midlandwatta and Kasagahawatta, where the wind wafts in a strong odour. During the monsoons, wind carries the stench as far as 100 metres”.

“Another persistent problem are flies and mosquitoes from the garbage dumped in the compost plant, along with dogs dragging the garbage around,  birds carrying dead and decaying matter and dropping them in wells. Our letters of protest  to all the officials involved from the President to the Grama Niladari of the area are of no avail,” he adds.

According to him, Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Gampaha District Office, in  feasibility study had recommended  the garbage dumped be relocated. They have also recommended closing the compost site on three sides to minimize the stench and prevent collapse and to spray for insects. “The PHI verbally promised that this would be done, but so far no action has been taken. What I want to know is how practicalit is, to dump so much garbage within such a small space, since this would have adverse impact on the health of future generations,” he states.

“We want to breathe freely,” declared one resident of the Heartland Scheme, who wished to remain anonymous. The stench from the piles of garbage makes the residents of the area nauseous and suffocating, especially during night time, when it is strongest.

Udeni Ranatunge, Resident of Heartland Residencies, commented that the land where the compost plant is, has been donated to Pradeshiya Sabha by their company as a CSR project to build a cemetery or a children’s playground. Now the garbage from Ragama, Kandana, Ja Ela, Batuwatta and even the garbage from Ragama hospital including syringes and blood stained cotton wool are dumped at the site.  It was first a pit of water, which has now filled with garbage.

“We can’t stay here. Flies perch on the clothes we put on lines to dry. Once they fly off, there are maggots on the clothes. We now eat inside mosquito nets because there are so many flies,” she says.  The issue is somewhat reduced, as pesticides are used at the compost plant.  After complaining to the police, a solution was promised to them by February 15.

“What they did was burying all the garbage and covering with soil. We drink water from tube wells, we’re scared we might catch some sort of disease.”

Heartland Welfare Association, Secretary, Daya Chandrapala says, after the police complaint,  they had a discussion with the DayaAuthorities from PradeshiyaSabha, which indicated the compost plant would not be removed. “What they are actually doing is, dumping garbage, using the guise of compost plant,” he says. He disclosed that the residents are preparing for courts in case a solution is not provided by February 15.

“Children get coughs and other lung problems,  plusan epidemic of skin diseases,” says Srinath De Silva, another resident. According to him the presence of worms is due to rotten meat  from the  markets  found among the garbage. “This is what attracts cranes and crows. Even the PHI, who is supposed to look after our health, is trying to please the Pradeshiya Sabha.”

Fathima Zainab, a young mother from the area said that the children are falling ill and it is difficult to keep flies off her young 5child’s food. “Because of the smell, we got a burning sensation similar to gastritis; my family had to take medicine. We are living on rent, we have two more months to stay, but we are going to leave.

Ja Ela Pradeshiya Sabha, Secretary,
Manjula Samanthi commented that there are no flies or worms in the area and that cranes take care of the flies. “I went to visit the plant today and it is a compost plant that generates a good income. Polythene is baled here. There is no problem,” she says.

Residents of Ekala have also been under tension due to the proposal to relocate Meetotamulla garbage dump to Othe Kale, Ekala. Ruvini Jayasinghe, Resident of Matthew Mawatha said, this site is selected  being the lowest tender received by the Colombo Municipal Council, at the tender for a land to dispose garbage. The land, being a marsh, is flood prone. “This would adversely affect if the garbage dumping sites are re-located to Othe Kale. Areas including Makavita, Kotugoda, Bolanda,Koraleliyawatta,Vishakawatta, Matthew Mawatha, Pansala Para, Ekala Karmika Janapadaya, Gampaha Para, Nivasipura, Millennium City, Raddolugama and Seeduwa. This would affect our ground water supply and pollute well water.  In addition, this area floods every year, carrying garbage  inside our houses with the flood water”.  She also discloses that the Kotugoda Ela boarding this proposed land, falls in to the Negombo Lagoon,  creating a serious threat to the ecosystem.”

The odour is not the least of their concerns. “It was reported that people in Meethotamulla area contracted skin diseases, and other  serious ailments due to the garbage fills. Child mortality was high in that area. Knowing this, politicians are still planning to go forward without thinking of the people, after all the protesting. There is no difference between people of Ekala and people of Meetotamulla,” she states.

She further adds that the owner of the proposed land is speculated to earn 30 million rupees per month from the Colombo Municipal Council, as the rent for the land. “We live everyday, thinking for how many days we will be able to breathe without stink. It is better to die than to live in a garbage dump. There is no point in living if we cannot be free in our homes,” she declared.

Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has requested the government to relocate or alternatively recycle instead of dumping at Ekala, Ja Ela, a highly populated area, subject to flooding. He also stressed the environmental impact on the Negombo lagoon.

Authorities from Central Environmental Authority were not available for comment.

A long-term garbage disposal mechanism, is the answer if this issue is to be tackled successfully. Relocating garbage dumps  is far from a pragmatic solution. If the solution is recycling, then there is the necessity to ensure that there are no adverse effects to human health as well as the environment, in the process.

Same dump covered with soil after complaints
Same dump covered with soil after complaints