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The Rivira Sunday Edition conducted a discussion with Minister of Disaster Management, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa with regard to the destruction of life and property caused by the Meetotamulla garbage mountain, the government’s intervention, actions taken by the government pertaining to disaster management and measures taken by them to provide solutions to the garbage problem.

Q: Didn’t Meetotamulla clearly prove that the country has continued to fail in relation to disaster management?

In 2012, we highlighted the problems at this location. A complete report regarding this had been given to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). The CMC too had realized the danger of this and taken initial steps to evacuate them. On March 7, residents were told to vacate the place. Furthermore, the CMC had given them money to rent houses and had taken action to give Rs 1.5 million to those who vacated their homes. Today what has happened is that in Sri Lanka some people don’t take serious any warning regarding any disaster. When we informed them in places outside Colombo of landslide risks, they acted accordingly. However, those in Colombo don’t do the same. They don’t listen no matter what you say let alone landslides. It is the same thing that happened during the last flood.

Q: In our country, disaster management only takes place after a disaster occurs. But foreign countries take measures prior to a disaster taking place?

During major disaster situations in the country, we have intervened prior to them taking place and taken necessary measures. Among the main disasters, we have mapped out places where landslides can occur. In the Badulla district, we have identified places where landslides take place and declared them high security zones and during times of rain we evacuate the people. Cabinet papers have been presented so that they can obtain the necessary monies to obtain houses. We only inform and make people aware of the harm. There are other Ministries to do other things. There are many places in the country where people have been informed of such disasters.

Q: No matter what you say, didn’t the government fail in the Meetotamulla matter? This is what the Joint Opposition is charging.

No. There is no such failure. A certain portion of the blame goes to them too. They too have to accept part of it. All of us have for 20 years been governing. Therefore, when they make allegations against us and point a finger towards the government, four fingers are pointed backwards to their side. On the other hand, what should be done in this instance is not to say who was right and who was wrong. All of us have failed to solve the garbage problem in the country.
Q: At least now, aren’t you all seeking an ultimate solution?

That is what I am saying. Instead of debates, at least now this should be understood as a national issue and solutions must be sought for this crisis. This tragedy doesn’t teach us to point fingers at one another. It teaches us that we have to work together collectively. What we have to do now is to find a solution for this national problem. Instead of slinging mud at one another or talking about shortcomings and engaging in trashy politics, we must at least now engage in intelligent and respectable politics.

Q: Isn’t this garbage problem not just solely in Meetotamulla but a major crisis for the entire country?

Yes. This is a crisis for the country. This is a crisis in Kandy. No matter what district one takes, this garbage problem is a big crisis. The more there is increased urbanization where an urban family generates three times more garbage than a family in a village, the problem gets bigger. Because of these garbage mountains, health problems become aggravated. Waterways get polluted. Because of this, waste must be disposed in a sanitary and hygienic manner.

Q: Can this be done?

There are methods of systematically disposing of waste in a sanitary and hygienic manner. If we correctly adopt these measures, we can get rid of this threat from garbage. We must make plans so that it becomes everyone’s responsibility. During the time of the previous government, we brought a proposal to make garbage compost. We provided compost bins to approximately 200 Local Government authorities. After that, another project came. This was to make a healthy waste retainer landfill using funds from South
Korea. Afterwards, we received funds to make five such retainers or sanitary landfills.

Q: What happened to them?

The World Bank approved that Waga should be the area where the first waste retainer landfill was to be made. There was a massive opposition to it. The area’s politicians too supported the protest. Therefore, we had to refrain from implementing this in the said area. Afterwards, we chose Dompe. There too, a massive crisis emerged. Yet, I took a great effort at that moment and managed to get it started there. In this project, the garbage was to be disposed without any harm to the ground. Other such places have been identified for waste management.

Q: How are these to be done when there is massive opposition from the people?

We have to act without heeding these  impediments There is no point in slogans such as ‘we don’t want garbage from Colombo’. All countries in the world follow such methods. Empty political protests and protests from people due to ignorance, should be stopped and halted.