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•    NBRO admits knowledge of the precarious soil condition

•    Proposes a costly dam as a solution

The death toll from the collapse of the Meetotamulla garbage has rose to 32, leaving 11 people injured, eight more missing, 73 houses damaged and 76 families affected, according to a Disaster Management Centre situation report.

An entity called the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) has admitted that they had prior knowledge about the condition of the soil at the garbage mountain which was one of the factors that precipitated the man-made disaster that claimed the lives of dozens of men, women and children while causing a massive destruction of property.
The conditions and factors coupled with the soil condition, led to the catastrophe where the garbage load and the pressure exerted by its weight and rainfall (of 42 millimetres) two days prior to the incident took the heavy toll.

Director of the Landslide Research and Risk Management Division of the NBRO, RM Senarath Bandara pointed out that what had taken place at Meetotamulla was a special situation and could not technically be defined as a landslide.

“Generally, the more the load piled atop the earth’s surface the more the weight is upon the earth which would in turn result in the earth floor sinking. However, this is not what had taken place. Of the soil layers at the location of the garbage mound, on the top is a layer of peat, below and beneath which is a hard, dense and a thick layer of soil. The layer of peat is weak and loose. What happened was that when the load of garbage exerted pressure on the soil layer, instead of the hard, dense and thick layer of soil sinking vertically along with the weight of the garbage load, the load instead moved laterally along with the loose layer of peat, moving and pushing on towards the area where the houses were and soon moving in a circular pattern with the houses. This form of load release is called a heaving condition, ” said Bandara.
While reiterating that the NBRO knew of the said soil condition, Bandara however said that they did not know of the garbage load on site, how much was dumped and how much of a load the area could bear. With regard to the latter aspects, he fathomed a guess that no research had been conducted by anyone into it.

He further acknowledged that at some point, the load that had been imposed on the place had exceeded the limit.

Currently, the drainage systems in the area remains blocked owing to the garbage.
“At present, the load is too much and this in turn has led to tension cracks appearing. The aforementioned movement is presently ongoing and will continue. Because the drainage systems are blocked, if there is rainfall, there is the possibility of local floods and flood conditions occurring. This will adversely impact the houses further,” Bandara noted.
Presently, 130 houses have been identified as being in the danger zone and have been temporarily evacuated.

A top official in charge of the relevant matter in the NBRO who wished to remain anonymous explained that: “There are two sides to this issue. One side says that they were inhabitants of the area prior to garbage dumping and therefore the garbage needs to go. The other side tasked with removing the garbage has not done so. Either the people must be completely removed from the area or the garbage must go. If both the people and the garbage are going to be kept in the area, then for the protection of the people, a mitigatory measure must be introduced,’’ the official said.

The official elaborating on the requirement of an urgent measure in this regard added that they had mooted the idea of constructing a retention structure in the form of a dam which touched the hard, dense and thick layer of soil, a measure against the vertical and lateral movement. This however, according to the official required further study prior to finalization.

“The vertical structure of the dam would have a length of 500 metres. It will be extremely costly. The more one continues to dump, the more the movement. An immediate decision must therefore be taken,” he emphasized.
According to Emeritus professor of Geology, University of Peradeniya, C.B. Dissanayake  because of daily disposal of tons of garbage at the Meetotamulla dump site has resulted in increased pressure on the ground. He added that the pressure by the biogases produced in the garbage dump is another reason for the instability of the area.

Recycling only option

Even a single toffee wrapper thrown away is responsible for the Meetotamulla catastrophe where residents had to sacrifice their lives along with whatever they earned throughout their lives.
“Meetotamulla turned graveyard is not a natural disaster it is murder,” says environmentalist Ravindra Kariyawasam. “The garbage does not belong to the residents of the area. All of us have played an equally responsible role in these deaths. People have no idea about consumption. They use all sorts of plastic and polythene and dump them.”
Kariyawasam went on to say that the problem has been in existence since 2009 with the court order given by former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva to temporally dump Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) garbage in Meetotamulla instead of at Bloemendhal Road. “This is only in two and half acres. But since 2009 the garbage dump has been spread over 19 acres and 300 metres in height due to more than 1200 tons of garbage being dumped daily, said Kariyawasam.

From the researches done in 2013 and 2015 a possibility of an earthslip was forewarned according to Kariyawasam. “During the rainy season the garbage flows into the Kelani River. In the garbage dump there is a huge amount of polythene and when the water gathers in polythene it could in turn trigger an earth slip, not to mention many health issues such as skin problems and asthma.” explained Kariyawasam.

In 2005 a garbage dump on the Indonesian island of Java collapsed causing 143 deaths. On March 12, 2017, a garbage dump in Addis Ababa in Africa slipped causing the deaths of more than 120 residents. “We have had enough evidence from all over the world as warning. For eight years the authorities haven’t done anything to prevent this disaster from taking place”, rued Kariyawasam.

Suggesting a solution for this stagnating issue Kariyawasam said that instead of passing the buck the government must restart the recycle programme that has been buried for years.

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