Garbage inferno leaves 19 dead; President intervenesView(s):
500 tons to be destroyed daily; little action so far because one institution thought the other would do it
A garbage inferno at Meethotamulla on National New Year day — that left 19 dead and more than 140 houses destroyed — has prompted President Maithripala Sirisena to intervene to resolve the festering issue.
As Minister of Environment, he will announce measures in the coming week on how to prevent the piling of garbage there. A source at the presidency said the measures were being worked out and the President would also make a statement once it was completed.
Politicians and civil society groups have urged in the past many months that the mountain of garbage be shifted for the safety and well being of residents of the area. However, President Sirisena has learnt that no action has been taken. The reason for this, he has been briefed, is the involvement of several bodies and the belief by one that the other would carry it out. They include the Western Provincial Council, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development and the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government.
The source said yesterday that arrangements were being made to destroy some 500 tons of garbage daily. President Sirisena would in his statement explain how this would be done.
On Friday, after those responsible for the near sky high pile of garbage had been cutting a path using earth moving equipment to spread the garbage storage area. Residents had raised protests and set fire to an earth mover. Instead, the fire caught up with the garbage making an inferno of the shanties and triggering an avalanche, burying occupants below. Residents objected to the Police moving in on Friday. President Sirisena ordered the deployment of armed forces. Helicopters were used to douse the fire.
Military Spokesman Brigadier Roshan Seneviratne said troops were not sure how many more lay buried. Five of the dead were children. Rescue officers last night said many were still missing and the death toll could rise. The Government will bear the funeral expenses of the dead. Several politicians who visited the area were booed. This include State Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake who arrived at the scene by helicopter.