When electing representatives to local councils, do we ponder for
a moment to ask ourselves whether we elect them for the right or
wrong reasons – taking care of our local needs or because
of the political party they belong to?
This was an interesting question raised last week during a discourse
on the environment, garbage and civic responsibilities. Dr Sumith
Pilapitiya, Senior Environmental Engineer, World Bank, asked whether
residents elect their representatives to tackle crucial local issues
like garbage, basic needs or road maintenance.
the first place, he argues, local administrations are elected on
national issues and not local ones. Garbage is never an issue at
a local council election, “so why should councillors care
about garbage?” he asked during a speech last week.
Pilapitiya’s point and many other issues raised during this
discourse with the business community was that civil society (we)
are responsible for the plight of the environment and because of
this negligence or indifference the government spends millions on
repairing or cleaning dirty, polluted canals, drains and several
more millions on health care.
need for action from the corporate sector vis-à-vis a clean
environment is precisely why The Sunday Times Business Club last
year – in association with CIMA – launched its award
for good waste management practices amongst corporates in its first
Community Leader scheme. Several companies applied and Unilever
won the gold medal for good practices.
land use shrinking and more and more people moving to urban cities
in search of jobs, a good life and facilities, local councils in
Sri Lanka are stretched to provide good water, sanitation and other
In Colombo for example, the housing and property development sector
has no social responsibility whatsoever.
land that is available – be it a marsh land or running over
vital drains and stormwater passages-will be grabbed, the highest
price paid and a condominium or apartment block comes up in next
to no time.
weeks ago, some of the best maintained roads in Colombo like Dharmapala
Mawatha and Horton Place were flooded – because stormwater
passages and drains had been either blocked by unsustainable development
or clogged with garbage and “siri bags” Commercial establishments,
apartments blocks, condominiums and tutories are the bane of quiet
residential areas in Colombo because of no proper planning as to
where these buildings should be located. With the city population
expanding, the strain is telling on the municipality’s ability
example a random survey of all the roads off Galle Road from Kollupitiya
to Wellawatte would show that the number of residents down these
roads have increased manyfold but have the services also increased
in line with the needs? Are these roads wide enough? Are the sewers
and stormwater drains adequate? Are the water pipes large enough
to meet the increasing number of families?
years ago, when a five-storey tutory with some 5,000 students came
up in a quiet suburb of Colombo, the residents protested to no avail.
Subsequently, some residents had problems in the municipality water
supply because of demand from the school and were forced to build
underground tanks as a fallback option due to shortages. Apart from
that garbage collection also became a problem. Parents of students
and other motorists were dumping garbage on the roadside just because
they didn’t want garbage in their own backyard!
has always been a problem in Colombo with no proper zones for residential
areas and commercial establishments. Nice residential areas with
trees and wide spaces are being turned into crowded, commercial
stretches with little or no green patches.
the garbage crisis in the city, residents in areas like Nugegoda
or Dehiwela don’t know where to dump their garbage as the
garbage trucks have ceased to come or hardly seen and the few garbage
dumpers on roadsides are missing. Local councils like the Dehiwela-Mount
Lavinia Municipality say they don’t have a landfill. So residents
are scouring the town looking a place to dump their garbage or hide
it in another’s backyard.
is money and value in garbage which can be made productive –
a well known fact -- if only politicians are committed and residents
elect local councils on the strength of local issues.