The Venigross glove making factory owned by the Hayleys Group that was at the centre of the Weliweriya water contamination controversy, has notified plant workers to report to work on August 22, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Army personnel have also been stationed outside the hostels provided for female workers at the plant, residents in the area claim.
The Defence Ministry ordered a two week shut down of the plant, after weeks of demonstrations by residents who are accusing Venigross of having contaminated the ground water in the area with its chemical waste. President Mahinda Rajapaksa who met with residents and company officials on Monday agreed to permit the plant to reopen in order to meet its export orders. In the long-term, the President has pledged to relocate the factory to a BOI zone.
While media and public focus remain on the clashes between military personnel and residents during a demonstration on August 1, that left three young men dead in Weliweriya, the residents continue to face a daily struggle for water.
Initial Government testing has found the water in the area to contain high levels of acidity that makes it unsuitable for drinking. Private testing by residents have revealed that the pH levels of the water in the region is 3 or 4. The Water Board has reportedly handed over 1 ton of a chemical used at water treatment plants to alkalise water with a set of simple instructions and measurements to the Gampaha District Secretariat to be disbursed to residents through Gramasevakas and public health inspectors. But thus far, not much has reached the villages, residents claimed.
Water tanks and bowsers promised to Weliweriya and surrounding villages are stationed along main roads, with large labels on them stipulating they have been donated by the Economic Development Ministry run by Basil Rajapaksa or other political contributors, residents in the area say. In some cases, residents have to walk up to 3 km to the nearest water tank. “It is as if the water tanks are on the main road for passerby to see, not to meet the need for water in our villages. So people are just giving up. Those who can afford it drink bottled water. Others drink the highly acidic water from their wells in resignation,” one resident said.
There is a profound sense of helplessness over the situation, the residents claim, with people trying to come to terms with the fact that they are drinking poisonous water. “They are afraid for their children and for themselves. They drink the water and suffer through the burning in their stomachs and chest,” said a resident in Weliweriya. At first, she says, most of the villagers thought the burning sensation in their mouths and chest were heartburn. “They kept drinking Thambili – only now once we have experienced clean water after having got used to that for so long do we realise what was happening,” she said.
The Water Board has commenced laying the pipes to supply pipebourne water to the beleaguered villages, but the residents say progress is woefully slow. Only one Back-Hoe has been supplied to dig up the road to lay the pipes. “Every day it digs about 500 metres – how long is it going to take them to make it to every village?” residents complain. They claim that it should be an easy task for a Government that builds air[ports and highways in mere months to provide safe drinking water to the people in the Western Province.