The Sunday TimesBusiness

13th April 1997



Sweeping Colombo Clean

There is new hope among Colombo residents that the newly elected Colombo Municipal Council would address itself to one of the obvious and urgent problems of an unclean city. Apart from the health hazards of an unsatisfactory environment to its residents, a clean city could be an attraction to investors and build business confidence. Some Asian cities which have neglected cleanliness, traffic jams and pollution have realised that these have been disincentives to foreign investors. A clean Colombo could inspire business confidence and create a living environment attractive to foreign investors.

Cleaning the city cannot be a function of merely the Municipality. However well intended the Mayor elect may be of cleaning the garbage, the polluted canals and other unsanitary features of the city, it is not realistic to expect that the Municipality alone could resolve this problem. In fact it may require additional resources from, and the co operation of, central government agencies such as the Urban Development Authority. It is hoped that the cleaning of Colombo will be considered a national responsibility and that these organisations would lend their support irrespective of political considerations. The Municipality itself must project the campaign to clean Colombo as a national project worthy of and requiring the support of all.

Among the most important contributors to the cleaning of Colombo must be the residents themselves. No amount of garbage collection could cope with the problems of garbage disposal if the residents do not discipline themselves to dispose of them in an orderly and clearly laid out ways. Haphazard disposal of garbage unconcerned with the environment even of neighbours has characterised urban behaviour in recent years. There is a need to educate and discipline the residents in order that the cleaning effort would be a success.

The new Municipal Council can take courage in the fact that Calcutta, a city with unparalleled problems of uncleanliness has been recently cleaned significantly. Calcutta is a city regaining some of its old splendour and charm and its roads and by ways are becoming useable. If Calcutta could be cleaned, cleaning Colombo would be much easier.

As Sudip Mazumdar has observed in the Newsweek Magazine of March 31 "If a place as bad off as Calcutta can awaken from the nightmare, the leaders of destitute cities around the world will pay attention and take note".

Another encouraging fact is that garbage disposal is not necessarily that costly. It has been found that garbage could be turned into a money spinner. Garbage could provide an energy source. There are also recycling possibilities of garbage material. These opportunities must also be explored in order to make garbage collection and disposal a financially viable venture.

Colombo was once called the Garden City of Asia. Fortunately, it does have a fair amount of greenery yet, but some streets have lost their old charm. Systematically well laid out trees carefully nurtured could enhance the city's beauty. Small urban forests are another possibility. It is also true that some parts of the city have improved owing to the initiatives taken by late President Premadasa.

There are immense possibilities of making Colombo an attractive city. The Beira Lake requires to be cleaned and its pollution removed. It can prove to be an attractive waterway around Colombo with possibilities of boating and water sports. Also new cafes and restaurants around it could make use of the potentially beautiful and attractive environment.

The other need is for a smooth flow of traffic in Colombo and more disciplined driving. This is a matter that should be addressed by the police which appears to take very little note of the traffic jams and bottlenecks. Offenders of traffic regulations must be penalised. The permission to park on roads must be carefully examined and parking should only be allowed where there is no hindrance to the traffic flow. The Colombo Municipality would have to work in close co operation with the police to ensure this. Let us prevent Colombo becoming another Bangkok.

A clean and beautiful Colombo could be a useful incentive to foreign investors and to the business community. The latter must help in various ways to assist the Municipality in making its task easier. We hope that the new Mayor would mobilise all the resources of Colombo Colombo's residents, hoteliers, businessmen, police and central government agencies to transform Colombo into an attractive capital city.

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