29 September, 2020

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Must Not Wait Until Problem Comes Crashing Down Again 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The tragedy at Meethotamulla, in the outskirts of Colombo, where a massive garbage dump came crashing down on people living on its perimeter, has generated an outpouring of support for the victims and frustration about the failure of successive governments to deal with the problem. About 40 persons are confirmed dead and several more remain unaccounted for giving rise to speculation that the actual death toll may be even higher. Unfortunately, this was a tragedy that could be seen to be coming. Those living in the vicinity of the garbage dump had been agitating for many years about the dangers posed to them by the prospect of disease and also by the stench but to no avail. In the meantime the mountain of garbage simply grew and grew and grew.

In societies such as Sri Lanka where systems of good governance are still not in place, even if aspired to, the priority of governments are not necessarily in order of importance or urgency. When systems are not strong it is those individuals who are in positions of power, and who are self-interested about their use of power, who have their way. Even today when there is a government in office that has a stated policy of being committed to good governance, priorities can be seen to be warped. The budgetary allocation for vehicles of parliamentarians and other officials who serve them seems unduly large when the country is said to be facing an economic crisis due to past profligate spending on the part of the previous government.

The problem of dealing with the garbage issue has been the absence of a system to prioritise the problem and solve it. It is also the absence of individual champions of garbage disposal in the ranks of those who have been and are power holders who were prepared to work for the national interest even at the expense of their own. As a result there was no political will to push the solutions that were proposed to their conclusion. The problem was not the dearth of possible solutions. Many creative solutions were proposed, some of which are being proposed again today. This is no dissimilar to the much larger and still unresolved problem of the ethnic conflict and minority rights where systems of good governance have yet to be put in place.

Positive Actions 

In the aftermath of the tragedy there have been many contributions made to the victims by the general public. There have also been many contributions made to the newspapers and media giving possible solutions. The interest that the intelligentsia of the country is indicative of the large reservoir of untapped problem solving skills that can be drawn upon to resolve not only this but other major problems as well. Another notable feature of the post-disaster activism has been the generous support of the international community. Japan immediately sent humanitarian relief and a team of its experts in the field to visit the disaster site and to make recommendations. China has offered to set up a new garbage disposal system.

Another positive feature of the post-disaster situation is the limited scale of the political one-upmanship than might have been expected. Both government and opposition politicians have blamed each other for what happened, but underlying their criticisms is a sense that all have been at fault. The more significant part of their engagement has been their constructive suggestions with regard to providing the victims with adequate compensation, both in monetary terms and in the provision of housing. The government started by offering Rs 100,000 for funeral expenses, but soon that has been supplemented by the grant of houses and much greater financial assistance. The media too has given prominence to efforts to assist the victims and to making a critique of past actions and publicity to proposed solutions.

The humanitarian relief effort has been victim centered. This is the way it should be not only with regard to the garbage crisis but also with regard to other humanitarian crises that the country has faced. There is a need to ascertain the truth of what happened, compensate the victims, and ensure non recurrence of the problem by ensuring accountability and setting up new structures to address the problems that arose in the past. The tendency to seek to move easily to the future, without dealing with the root causes, needs to be guarded against. It is good to remember the forgotten people of past tragedies at this time.

Periphery Neglected 

In October 2014, 39 people died and hundreds were displaced by landslides in Koslanda where tea plantations are the main source of livelihood. However, according to media reports, people still continue to live in line rooms near the site of the landslides despite the area being designated as a danger zone. Another example would be Aranayake where 37 people died and another 4000 people were displaced by landslides in May 2016. Most of the affected families continue to remain in temporary shelters. A further 3000 people continue to live in danger zones that are prone to landslides. They are the forgotten people of past tragedies who continue to wait for assistance. They can be forgotten because they are not at the centre of either national politics nor can they disrupt life in the national capital.

By way of contrast, the pressures on the government to deliver a solution to the garbage problem are high. Despite the government’s declaration that garbage disposal is an essential service there is resistance from the general public to garbage from Colombo being dumped in their areas now that the Meetotamulla dumping site is no longer available. As the piles of garbage mount the government risks a political backlash in the national capital itself unless it solves the problem in a way that accords with public sentiment. For this reason as sustainable solution is likely to be found soon. However, in the case of more distant problems, where the political costs of inaction are less, the problem continues to fester.

Today it might seem that the plight of war affected people of the north and east is far away and so it is not a priority to the decision makers in the capital city. The weakness of good governance structures in the country have meant that lesser priority is being given to resolving their problems. The controversial nature of ethnic conflict which is the root cause of the three decade long war also means that there are few political champions who will devote themselves to solving the problem. Without waiting for anger and resentment to build up, as it did in the past, it is necessary that the government to obtain the cooperation of the opposition, who are jointly responsible and address the roots of this problem as well.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Jehan Perera: Sri Lanka’s biggest Development Priorities should be the following and NGOs should be pushing for these:

    1. Sanitary garbage disposal on land and in the sea. The ocean around Sri Lanka is one of the most highly polluted seas in the world due to failure of the govt. to pursue a policy of demilitarizing the Indian Ocean and cleaning it up. The MH flight that crashed in the Indian Ocean could now be found because of the amount of garbage in the Indian Ocean which is an INTERNATIONAL dumping ground for ships as they pass by Sri Lanka

    2. Decent Public Transport system – with air conditioned buses and trains and clean train stations and toilets.

    • 1
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      Dinuk, Yahapalanaya has given Lanka massive piles of garbage, debt and corruption while benefiting the global 1 percent. Today Sri Lanka’s development priorities are set in Washington DC and implemented via India and Japan. Galloping corruption (like the garbage piles) is masked by a veneer of spin that keeps the corrupt politicians and crooks show going to please IMF and WB.

      Sri Lanka has a colonized policy making process and an “acquired dependency on so-called foreign experts syndrome” which is actually worse than foreign $$$ dependency. The US govt via the right wing Millennium Challenge Corporation with fake development Harvard experts and IMF are setting the agenda and policy of the SL PM’s office and Lanka’s economic development policy. Hence the expanding inequality, poverty and debt trap today, with galloping rupee depreciation and inflation !

      • 0
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        The Japanese write reports on garbage disposal and policy, the IMF drafts Tax Bills for Sri Lanka, while land and national assets are sold off to China, India, Japan and US on Washington’s instructions.

        No recovery of funds looted by corrupt politicians and cronies and kept in Dubai, Singapore, Panama etc. to pay off national debt, while Sri Lanka is to be turned into a money laundering Mega port city Hub. 2 things are clear from the piles of garbage, debt and corruption of the Ranil-Sira Jarapalanaya – this regime is worse than the previous Mahinda Jarapassa regime, in all but on way and this is why Ranil-and Sira are actively protecting the Rajapakse financial criminals and promoting the same culture of impunity and immunity for financial crime.

  • 2
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    Corruption and gross incompetence and too many useless ministers and local authorities are the root cause of ALL the problems in Sri Lanka.
    Even the ethnic conflict was caused by greedy politicians who were looting the country and distracted the moda voters with racism and hate speech against ethnic and religious minority communities. Yet there are no corruption inquiries. The bond scam Commission is dragging its feet and asked for 3 months extension and not a single corrupt politician has been found guilty of Financial Crimes..
    Ranil-Sira Jarapalanaya is a joke!

    • 1
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      Dodo. A 52-year-old father of two committed suicide after his two sons were arrested by the Police on charges of stealing some tea from a tea factory where they worked in the Galaha area yesterday. While the poor are arrested for stealing to make ends meet or commit suicide, the corrupt rich and filthy rich politicians are scott free and enjoy impunity and immunity.

      Mahinda and Basil Jarapassa, the crooks who stole Tsunami relief and divineguma poverty funds will have a grand JO show on May Day at Galle Face with the protection provided by Ranil and Sira. One law for the corrupt rich and another for the poor.
      Pathetic Miracle of corrupt Modayas indeed! Jarapalanaya is the name of the game. Makes one’s blood boil.

      • 1
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        S.M.
        To cool down your blood whenever it starts boiling meditate on Jaffna library, 1983, 1989 and bank bonds.

        Soma

        • 0
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          Perfect reply

  • 1
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    NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) is a problem throughout the world.

    I must admit on visiting my motherland marveling at the shining clean parts of Colombo during Gota’s writ. Clean sidewalks, walkways, no garbage, no plastic flying all over etc. But I too like most people writing to CT never bothered to see “What was behind it”.

    I remember my family were so frustrated even at the so called civilized Tie-Coat Haamus in fancy cars throwing their trash near their house. It became a terrible nuisance with smells and dogs hovering. There was a sign too saying no trash but several times I saw people in cars and looking important being so cussed and throwing trash. Many Sinhala, Muslim Tamil all the same bunch of callous douchebags.

    NIMBY. So when Gota cleaned things up we were so happy but we FAILED to realize what was going on. Kolonnawa, Meetotamulla were not in our minds. I never saw Jehan Perera (hindsight 20-20)writing volumes on this issue, or rude traffic issues or lack of road rules. I doubt if he went to those areas with his foreign funded NPC to help the poor people either. But I too never bothered to see what was happening to the garbage because it was NIMBY(a term we use in environmental economics about such issues)

    I lived in a state in the US which use the Methane generated by landfills for energy. One of my friends was a landfill engineer and he had to carefully monitor the gas levels and buildups and pressure using different equipment on a 24-7 mode. But that landfill was away from residential or commercial areas.

    NIMBY.

    • 2
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      Mano,

      So correct! The best that can be done is for Nimby to become Imby.
      Those with gardens need to take care of their own refuse.

      GoSL is to clean up the public areas, but create economic rewards for those who show conscientiousness towards individual households and/or housing groups having garbage disposal methodology. Huge fines for those who sneakily try to redistribute rubbish to other areas or sit throwing refuse out of car windows, buses and trains.

      Every manufacturer of canned and plastic goods needs to pay taxes for recycling their product-refuses. (Unfortunately that might be already done, with GoSL using the profits to buy Benzes).

      Seems to have become worse with the current GoSL, with all kinds of manufacturing at an all-time high with the ultra-capitalistic drive.

      • 0
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        Do you live in Narnia ? Are you in out of touch with mentality of Sri Lankan residents, Madame?

  • 1
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    Reams are being written about the Meethotamulla disaster. As ever, the clamour will soon die down and then it will be back to business as usual until the next pile of shit hits the fan.

    Our self-serving politicians are not interested in solving burning issues unless there are votes in it. In any case all their time is spent playing politics and trying to cover their backsides.

    Whither the day we have politicians who will serve the people.

  • 4
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    Dr. Jehan want the opposition to be consulted. Bru ha ha Sambanthan is in Ranils shoulder there is nothing to consult him. He wants his Ealem pie.

    • 3
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      Patriot the pathetic

      “Bru ha ha Sambanthan is in Ranils shoulder there is nothing to consult him. He wants his Ealem pie.”

      All because you don’t want to share the land, resources, state powers, corruption, impunity, loot, …..

      You cannot have the pie (Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto) all to yourself.

      • 1
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        If Sinhala Buddhists are not sharing the pie, how come 50% of the Tamils live in Sinhala areas. Now, in Colombo Municipality, majority are Tamils. It is the Tamils who do not want to share the pie. They want to keep North-East of the country to themselves while Sinhalese in the rest of the country have to share with Tamils. Sinhalese who lived in Jaffna and expelled by LTTE went to claim their property after the war ended but Tamils once again chased them away. Do Tamils allow the Muslims expelled from Jaffna to return to their original place of residences?

        • 1
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          Eagle Eye,

          Have you tried to buy a land or a house in Jaffna with your own money? Who stopped the Sinhala from moving to the North by their free will? What the Tamils object is that the state sponsored Sinhala-only colonisations within N&E. No one will object to anyone moving to N&E by their free will.

          The Colombo is the capital city with bulk of the economic activities; this is why people move there. The war also pushed many to abandon their ancestral homes! The Tamils work hard for their living; they are not expecting handouts and handholding!

        • 1
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          Eagle Eye/Dr Clean/SL Citizen/50%/33.33%/25%/……

          “how come 50% of the Tamils live in Sinhala areas. “

          Could you let me have your source.

          Could you also let me have the % population of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, …… others in 1871, 1911 and 2011 through out the island’s 9 provinces.

          If you can’t, please don’t bother because either you are a liar or lazy liar.

  • 0
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    Again, Jehan P is no different from rest of us. We are all writing here or expressing our ANGST cum eo/after the fact. Jehan never talked about it and now once again wants us to accept his wisdom. Like I said, I too as an emigre’s marveled at post war clean Colombo without giving a tuppence to what was happening to the garbage. Let the Landfill engineers, recycling experts, scientists all living in SL come up with a long term permanent non-political solution. Otherwise, all we have are opinons; as they say opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one. Jehan is no different from the rest of the hollow pundits who have been writing about this embarrassing, humiliating human tragedy that puts SL on par with Ethiopia. So much for making it a Singapore. Waste dumping, waste recycling, waste to generate energy are global issues. Sorry for the people who suffered this terrible disaster.

  • 0
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    One day I was in a car with an old friend. I had returned and we went to Unawatuna. The other buddy of mine having lived in Italy had also returned. On the way, in the car one of my buddy’s little baby boys had to get a diaper changed. He pulled over the car, changed the diaper and tossed out the diaper on the side of the road onto the beach. Me and my Italy returned buddy were flabbergasted and looked at each other. We did not say anything but this was an English speaking Royalist classmate and good buddy.

    I have already written previously about cussed, rude jackass types who dump trash from their fancy rich cars, benzes, pajeros on the road side too. I once felt like taking my cricket bat to a car (A blue Toyota with a man in a tie and had one of the Doctor tags Blue cross on his windshield, suggesting at least the car is a doctor’s car) when they pulled over and tossed out a large bag of trash right next to my mother’s house. I have seen Haamu mahattaya types, Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims also doing the same shit. Yes I know because area around my mom’s house has a lot of ethnic diversity because of flats.

    NIMBY so they dont care and blame the government for everything when these c**ks*****s do not even have a sense of civic responsibility. What good is after the fact lamenting when there is no mindset and no urgency and no education to get people to behave in a responsible manner? Doesn’t the government reflect the mindset of the people it represents? Everyone ignores the poor. NIMBY so it is ok to shit on others.

  • 1
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    Jehan PhD, who normally stays in Political hemisphere, this time, has walked into Environmental issues too. Though all three races were living near disaster area and for my understanding that all were affected by this disaster, but as it is still being considered as a Southern problem, this time Jehan PhD was much more justifiable in his writing than any other time.

    Jehan PhD’s surprise change was not something we never predicted. In fact it is something we pointed out in these comments and argued that why is it necessary for Sinhalese that they let the Tamils to go.

    Jehan PhD has stayed away from being crooked or cunning or cooking in this Meethotamulla disaster and had shown that he too have a sincere feeling for the mass, instead of cheating them, when the issue of the disaster would circumvent minorities’ problems. He did not write a sincere essay like this when Aranayake disaster happened or Koslanda disaster happened. The fact is the involvement of estate workers mainly in that did not allow him to advocate for them in their disaster time than in this time he is calling for their justice.

    “Thanakendaal Chuzhaku Paddakku Paddakku Enndu-Adikkum” (If it’s for one’s own food, the winnowing fan will make Padak Padak noise).

    Once the Tamils are gone, Jehan PhD’ NPC like NGOs will be able to engage in real mass education, for which Jehan PhD gets funded. Voters will be able to vote for the candidates whom they think will really take care of them, not for artificial talkers, who promise to save the war heroes until their sole would reside in their body. Then the politician won’t be able to survive in politics unless they work for the mass. Peace will set in. Country will prosper. Sinhalese will be happy.

    • 1
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      Malli

      “…why is it necessary for Sinhalese that they let the Tamils to go.”

      I am with you. I am also asking the Sinhalese to let the Tamils go. That really has been the main theme of my comments if you happened to read. And we have to make all arrangements for the Tamils(Tamil speaking people) to go whenever the Tamil Homeland is established. I am focusing on what policy decisions we can take in case they are NOT going.

      To set an example can you get Sumathitharan to settle down in Jaffna and Hakim in Kattankudi?

      Soma

      • 0
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        soma,

        “To set an example can you get Sumathitharan to settle down in Jaffna and Hakim in Kattankudi?”

        You are yet again projecting your Small Mind! Individuals can chose to live wherever they want that applies to Sumanthiran and Hakeem as well! This does not negate the necessity to empower peoples. The Tamil question must be resolved politically and there is no way you guys can prevaricate. The time is running out!

        • 0
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          I thought people are made of individuals.

          Soma

    • 0
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      Jehan Does not have a PhD, I read, His certificate or the diploma is something called JD which you can buy that in socalled developed countries if you attend and complete a program in a paid institution.

      • 0
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        Correction. JD stands for Juris Doctor which is a LAW degree from a university in the USA. In his case Harvard. But it is NOT the terminal degree for legal studies: even for legal studies the terminal degree is a PhD. He does NOT have a PhD and therefore should NOT ever refer to himself as “DOCTOR”. It is just Juris Doctor but it is not a terminal degree.

  • 1
    2

    What about Hambantota for a. Garbage dump? Out of the 15000 acres to be given to the Chinese, govt surely can allocate even 100 acres for a dump and appoint a Rajapakse to manage it. Residents will not complain if Rajapakes manages it because things will be done properly according to professional and international standards. Secondly,it can be justified in the name of national sovereignty and national interest.

    Attitudes toward by residents in areas close to future dumps about garbage from Colombo reveal interesting trends. Firstly,they do not want garbage mixed with impure elements such as human waste, syringes,other disease prone stuff. This is understandable. Unlike in western countries, garbage is not sorted and recycled before disposal in our beautiful Lanka. If it did,it can provide employment to thousands of unemployed people in such processing sites. Actually,in some countries,such recycling centres are located just next to garbage dumps so residents can bring recyclable materials to be placed there,eg.cardboard,papers,bottles,plastic, garden waste like tree cuttings. Secondly, people in rural areas do not want the thrash of Colombo people who think should bear responsibility for garbage disposal and storage. This is also understandable. Thirdly, politicians and bureacrats are trying to wash their hands for a common problem in the country. The people in rural locations must be thinking,why only Colombo? What about our garbage problems? No one talks about it,

    The most common way the garbage is disposed after recyclable materials are sorted is to find a remote location requiring land fill. It then becomes a win win situation as two goals can be achieved with single action,ie garbage disposal, and land fill. I am surprised that none of our political leaders and experts who work for them can’t find such a place or few places in the whole country? If a multinational company or a foreign government came with a few million dollars for a garbage disposal project,then our ministers, PM and even the hon.President will find disposal places in 24 hours. The ministers will immediately compete among themselves to claim credit and responsibility. If there is an indirect gift if a BMW or a Benz,the site will be found even in a couple of hours. This is our Lanka under yahapalanaya which has become a Biru and hora Palanaya.

  • 0
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    “Today it might seem that the plight of war affected people of the north and east is far away and so it is not a priority to the decision makers in the capital city.”

    Don’t you see. Jehan is not concerned about people affected by the garbage disaster. He is using the garbage disaster to highlight his priority that brings him his next pay check.

  • 0
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    meethotamulla is just a reminder of the fact that we have a reactive and not a proactive government and I doubt the situ will change before the next crisis

  • 0
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    There is no proper drainage system through entire Sri Lanka

  • 0
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    The problem with this yahapalanaya govt is that all issues related to governance and development are allowed to meander along without consultations with concerned stake holders and no will to solve them. This results in issues snowballing with time forcing effected people to come to the streets to protest for solutions and causing inconvenience to the general public at the end.The govt uses the police to stop the protests by tear gassing and baton charging finally dispersing the protesters. But issues continue without solutions until the next round of protests. Policies and political agendas of the two main parties clash when decisions have to be taken.The executive president’s hands are tied as he is subservient to the PM. Both of them have two divergent cultures and social backgrounds one is Sinhala oriented while the other is western oriented.It is high time that the executive president at least now refrain doing party politics and govern the country with the powers he has.

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