16 November, 2018

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Meethotamulla Disaster & The Unraised Question

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

The collapse of the garbage mountain at Meethotamulla has killed around 40 people so far. This is indeed a terrific tragedy and it is not the first time that innocent people have lost their life because of inverse prioritization of management objectives and tasks by state agencies and their private service providers. However, since this event happened a number of so called experts have raised the question of waste management in Colombo and suggested a number of possible solutions ranging from shifting the garbage to different locations to application of better technology. Even foreign governments like China and Japan have come to Sri Lanka’s assistance.

Yet, none of the solutions suggested so far has raise the most fundamental question of how to reduce the amount of garbage that is daily accumulating throughout the country. Waste accumulation is a global problem and without reducing the quantity of waste that humans produce all technological solutions to recycle or destroy the garbage will involve more scarce resources unaffordable to many developing nations. In fact, according to a study in 2012 by a former World Bank development specialist Hoornweg and co-author Perinaz Bhada-Tata the global cost of dealing garbage is estimated to rise from $205 billion a year in 2010 to $375 billion by 2025, with the sharpest increase in developing countries. To my knowledge no such comprehensive and comparable studies have yet been made in relation to Sri Lanka. This is another evidence of misplaced development priorities by the authorities.

In suggesting solutions to the global garbage problem the same study identifies, “a move towards stable or declining population, denser and better-managed cities consuming fewer resources, and greater equity and use of technology”. Sri Lanka’s population growth rate of less than one percent a year is comparable to any middle income country. The use of better technology will require greater investment from a debt ridden economy. Foreign assistance in this area can become quite handy. But the other two suggestions, better management of cities and equity are issues that calls for an administrative system and governance free of corruption, nepotism and discrimination. Even if these were to improve that will not help in reducing the current rate of garbage accumulation.

The ruling economic paradigm that elevates the free market to the position of a welfare arbiter and promotes a lifestyle that ennobles unbridled consumption cannot guarantee equity and protect the environment. When the system encourages people to consume things that they do not need with money they do not have and may be to impress someone they do not like inequity and waste become unavoidable. The rising income disparity and environmental damage are global issues emanating from the school of free market economics into which Sri Lanka has enrolled as a faithful pupil. A great many things that are heavily advertised and dished out to the impulsive consumer in indestructible polythene bags and packages are in reality a waste. This consumer culture has to change if humans want to live in a safe environment with equitable distribution of income and welfare. Without a systemic change there will be many more Meetotamullas.

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    You are dead right.
    You also have indicated why the relevant question is not raised.
    Much the same goes for our ‘energy crisis’.

  • 2
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    A country that can not recycle its garbage collection how can it becomes like a Singapore one day?.how can it become a wonders of Asia one day ?.what is wrong with policy makers ? Why this happens? It is said Goata ordered to accumulate all garbage at this place.is this true ..take him into court as in orther cases ?. Take any one who did this into court? Introduce new system of recycling..give some bins and disperse into 4 places…not in one palace…Colombo south, Colombo north, Colombo West, colombo East, Colombo central. All garbage should be collected by different groups and dispersed onto different areas for recycling…so garbags do not accumulate one place like big collection..it is a good system what we need ?.

  • 0
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    Some salient points in regards to the article: (1) garbage is being dumped everywhere, including beaches, (2) mechanisms are not there for people to dispose of trash in a proper manner, which results in a haphazard collection, (3) landfills are too close to dense population centers, (4) landfills are not appropriately constructed, (5) in many instances the equipment for collecting the garbage (such as a lorry), is inadequate. Another problem is lack of environmental concern, on the part of both the citizens and the government. You can’t separate this issue of garbage accumulation with toxic pesticides being imported to the country. Both events show serious disregard for careful environmental planning and conservation.

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