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Editorial

 
 

Seamy side of paradise



How civilised a country is can be judged by the way it handles its garbage. In colonial days, crocodiles were kind enough to take care of Colombo’s waste, we are told. Most people used to dump their garbage into Beira Lake, letting massive crocs living there do the rest. Those reptiles were lucky that polythene and chemical waste was unheard of in those days. Crocs have disappeared over the years and the garbage problem has worsened.


In ancient times, kings who ruled this country took pride in constructing engineering wonders such as breathtakingly huge dagobas. Under the modern-day potentates mountains of garbage, much bigger than ancient stupas, have appeared in many parts of the country, especially in the outskirts of Colombo. Ever growing giant waste dumps at Bloemandhal and Meethotamulla are monuments to the callous disregard of successive governments and city administrations for public wellbeing.


We reported the other day that the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) was anxiously waiting till flood waters receded to resume garbage dumping at the Meethotamulla site so as to keep Colombo clean. The flood affected people got relief items from kind-hearted fellow citizens and the so-called city fathers sent them stinking refuse, so to speak!


Colombo has got expensive facelifts under successive governments, but its garbage has always been disposed at the expense of the people in the suburbs. Its waste problem was shifted to Meethotamulla instead of being solved. The same goes for the cleanliness of other urban centres, whose municipal waste finds its way into adjoining areas amidst howls of protest from the irate public. Various solutions have been suggested to Colombo’s garbage problem during the last few decades, but none has been implemented so far.


Police descend on ordinary people responsible for haphazard garbage disposal. Many a person has so far been hauled up before courts and punished for dumping waste in public places. But, the CMC and other local government bodies have been doing just that all these years with impunity. What is the difference between Perera throwing garbage near Silva’s gate and the CMC dumping municipal waste in close proximity to houses, schools and places of worship at Meethotamulla?


Those who are responsible for having created huge garbage dumps ought to realise that they have exposed thousands of people to danger. Researchers have now established that waste sites increase the risk of lung cancer and respiratory diseases. An IANS news item we reproduce today points out, quoting the findings of a study published in The International Journal of Epidemiology, that among residents living close to waste sites, mortality rate and hospitalisations are high due to lung cancer as well as respiratory diseases. The worst affected are children, the study has revealed.


It is high time a similar study was undertaken here to gauge the adverse effects of garbage dumps on people’s health in areas adjacent to them. The National Child Protection Authority has evinced a keen interest in safeguarding children’s rights. It has expressed its concern over the possibility of diseases spreading in the flood-hit areas and called for action to protect children against them. It should also take up the garbage related health issues affecting children; their right to live in a clean environment without being exposed to health hazards has to be safeguarded. Nobody must be allowed to violate that fundamental right.


Now that researchers have established a direct link between garbage sites and serious health issues, action is called for against those who endanger people’s lives by dumping waste near residential areas.


Billions of rupees are spent on urban development projects and the time has come to utilise a sizeable chunk of those funds to find ways and means of solving Colombo’s waste problem once and for all.


 
 
 

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