Sri Lanka garbage victims warned to move out two weeks earlier

ECONOMYNEXT – The Colombo Municipality on Tuesday said it warned 25 households to evacuate, but only six of them accepted a rent allowance and left before the Kolonnawa garbage mountain collapsed killing 32 people.

Colombo Municipal Council Commissioner V. K. A. Anura said he had even painted warning signs on the walls of 25 homes that were identified as most vulnerable, but regretfully the advise was not heeded.

"Six families accepted the rent allowance of 15,000 rupees a month for a period of six months till we were able to find them permanent accommodation elsewhere," he said. "Another eight families moved out, but refused the allowance saying it was not enough. Today, I met some of them and they worshipped me saying I had saved their lives."

Most of the victims had put up illegal structures on encroached state land, but the municipality had agreed to pay them an allowance to move out pending the allocation of state housing.

Meanwhile, hundreds of tonnes of rotting garbage piled up in Sri Lanka’s capital on Tuesday as the Kolonnawa dump remained shut following Friday’s incident that killed 32 and left 4 people missing.

Authorities sealed the massive 300-foot rubbish mountain after it collapsed on Friday, destroying 145 homes nearby and burying victims in a garbage landslide. Disaster Management officials said only 79 homes had been completely destroyed.

Military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne said hundreds of troops were still searching for five people missing since the accident, but authorities were not hopeful of finding any survivors.

Soldiers dug out another body on Tuesday afternoon, raising the death toll to 31.

The Colombo Municipal Council was scrambling for new locations to dump the roughly 800 tonnes of garbage produced every day in the capital, as crows and stray dogs picked through bags of reeking garbage left on city streets.

The council sought permission on Tuesday from a local magistrate to access another tip outside the city limits at Karadiyane near Kesbewa, promising it would clear the four-day backlog of trash within 24 hours.





In several areas of the capital, heaps of garbage spilled onto main roads.

"We are finding new locations. By noon on Wednesday I am hopeful of restoring normality in clearing garbage," Commissioner Anura said. "We will not dump it all in one location, but at several sites."

Officials said 1,700 people living near the tip had already been relocated to temporary shelters, while the government searched for alternative accommodation for many more.

A night of heavy rain, followed by an outbreak of fire destabilised the 23 million-tonne garbage heap, causing its collapse as Sri Lankans celebrated the traditional new year.

Parliament had been warned the vast tip posed a serious health hazard, and that a long-term solution was needed to dispose of Colombo’s trash. (COLOMBO, April 18, 2017)

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