News Features  



A Living Hell

By Gagani Weerakoon
Masses of flies, herds of cattle, an army of stray dogs and a killing stench will welcome anyone who enters the Gohagoda garbage mountain in Katugastota, Kandy. What is unbelievably true is that about 1000 persons accounting for approximately 150 families have either chosen or been compelled to live in this garbage nerve centre known as Gohagoda garbage mountain or the solid waste management site of the Kandy Municipal Council (KMC) in Thekkawatta area of the Harispattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha limits in Katugastota. Daily, approximately 100 to 150 tonnes of solid waste collected by the KMC and the Harispattuwa PS is dumped at the site, according to labourers at the site and the KMC. In 2003, this uncontrolled dumping site at Gohagoda was upgraded to a semi-engineered landfill in 2003 with financial and technical assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agencies (JICA). However, due to lack of proper operational mechanism in maintenance, the semi-engineered landfill has been reverted to an uncontrolled dumpsite.

The Gohagoda land which is 32 acres in extent has served as the Kandy solid waste disposal ground since 1977 when the KMC stopped using its Nittawela facility. The KMC obtained the Gohagoda land during the colonial administration. It originally belonged to the Kondadeniya Temple.

This garbage dump has been the topic of much controversy and a few months back the Environment Ministry threatened legal action against the Kandy Municipal Council for failing to address the garbage crisis in the City.
Former environment Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said his ministry had offered Rs.300 million to the Kandy MC to upgrade the Gohagoda garbage disposal site in order to address the garbage issue in the area. Despite this, the KMC had assigned the task of garbage collection to a private party violating the law.

Clash of opinion
There are three types of residents in the Thekkawatta area –a middle class Sinhalese community and the lower middle Tamil community who were settled in the area following 1993 floods in Kandy. Majority of them are from Bogambara and at the moment willing to move out of the land provided that they are given better shelter elsewhere. The other group is those who were originally from the area whose lives revolve around the garbage dump and are simply in love with the waste site.

Mrs. Pussawela who is in her mid sixties told The Nation that even though they are willing to move out the process is getting delayed as a section of residents are not willing to go.
“This place was not like this earlier. Though the garbage dump was there it was only restricted to a specific corner. Now they are dumping garbage everywhere and have basically filled the playground. They even drop garbage at our doorsteps and along the road. Walking out on rainy days is simply a nightmare as the condition of the roads around has gone to the dogs with tractors and trucks coming in every five minutes,” she lamented.
Many others expressed the same view.

“They, the original settlers are obviously oblivious to the terrible impact posed by the garbage dump and only worry about the money they can make from this. They are in love with the waste site as they collect the polythene and plastic fetching them the rupees and cents. They maintain a monopoly and make sure that outsiders do not enter the site,” Rasaiyah, a labourer, said.

Speaking to that segment of inhabitants was a trying chore. They gave The Nation the cold shoulder when we tried to rushing inside their houses and locking themselves up. An elderly man walked out of a house after about 45 minutes wait. “We have no problem here. No mosquitoes, no flies, no diseases or any other problem,” he lied even before we could ask him anything.
As Rasaiyah correctly said they let their cattle wander in the garbage dump as they do not have to worry about feeding them.
“The pigs, goats and even cows eat anything and everything in the garbage site. They consume polythene in large quantities. They even dump hospital waste here including throwaways from hospital morgues,” he said.

According to a study conducted by the Peradeniya University, the dump site is not adequate to take in the intake causing a spillover. A failed leachate treatment system further compounded matters. Large quantities of polythene and plastic had resultantly led to foul liquids spreading all over the place.
Since the boundary fence is broken, animals and birds feed on the garbage scattering the waste and the path to the site is muddy during rainy seasons. Neither can vehicles enter the site. The study report also states that the site was being used despite exceeding its life span.

Rainfall infiltration is high in the deposited waste due to lack of soil cover producing large volumes of leachate which flows directly into the nearby Mahawelli River without any treatment.
When contacted, the acting Mayor of Kandy, Suminda Wickremesinghe said that all these families are illegal occupants who needed to be removed.

“We are trying our best to give them a relief even though it is not our responsibility. It is KMC land and we occupied it for more than 100 years. There was a court case against us and now it is over. So, we are starting a project with another company to produce bio gas from Gohagoda solid waste,” he said.
He also noted that only 100 to 150 tonnes of garbage is dumped at the site at present and that it will be increased to 250 tonnes per day once the project was started.


It is not only the health hazards residents of Thekkawatta area face. They are often sidelined by the rest of the community when they go to a government office, any other institution or even in public transport.
“In rainy days buses do not allow us or even the school children in if they know that we are from Thekkawatta saying that we stink. Our children often get sidelined at school and there have been instances where they were sent back because they stank. They can’t help it as the roads are all muddy in the rainy days,” Pushparani, a mother of two, said helplessly.

Several children were seen playing even though it was school time and when asked as to why they did not attend the school all said in unison “We are not allowed. Teachers say we stink. Classmates say we stink. They mock us and every time we pass by they ask us whether we are from Thekkawatta. We hope that we will get some other place to stay so we also can go to school.”
It is not the only case.
“We are the only people who were settled here. We have relatives who are in other areas of Kandy. They never visit us because we are living in garbage. We have grown up children but how are we going to give them in marriage? Who will want to marry a girl from Thekkawatta? That is why we are so eager to move out. We pay tax each year to the KMC but get the least facilities. When we tell them our grievances the only reply they give is a reminder that this land belongs to them. What we want to know is if it is the case why in the world did they resettle us in this land in the first place,” echo these angry residents of Thekkawatta.

Health Hazards

Over the years the garbage dump has become a hub of many social, environment and health hazards attributed to intentional and unintentional causes.
The KMC is discharges about 80,000 litres of untreated sewerage to the Mahaweli River at Gohagoda. This is done just above the new Kandy water scheme intake, and it was shocking to notice the existence of a water plant in the midst of a huge garbage dump even though a director of the Kandy Water Supply and Drainage Board assured that the water is treated properly under the guidance of Japanese experts prior to distribution.
Residents of the Gohagoda, Thekkawatta, Siyambalagasmula Mawatha and Elephant Bath areas complain that the stench from the discharged sewerage is unbearable.

Ironically, according to a community leader, it was in the same line of houses where they claimed they have no health issues that a four month old infant died due to a germ infection.
In another case one whole family had been infected with a skin rash including a four month old child.
“We have only one room but four families live in this house. We are covered by flies during the day time and mosquitoes in the night. We cannot even eat properly because of these flies. You never know what sorts of germs they carry,” said another resident.
She said that their repeated pleas to the authorities to take action to rid the stench, at least by covering each layer of garbage with soil, had fallen on deaf ears.

“We residents from 22 villages in Katugastota got together and walked to the KMC in a procession as a protest and the KMC dumped heaps of garbage on our doorsteps as a tit for tat,” she grieved.
Shockingly, though the entire country has been put on a dengue alert in destroying mosquito breeding grounds, the Gohagoda garbage dump is a haven for mosquitoes.
“Above all, there is the problem of stray dogs. You cannot walk in the area in the night as the dogs in the dog house for stray dogs in Kandy are released by night. They claim the dogs are sterilised and vaccinated. But what is the guarantee,” asked Pussawela.

Settlers on the other side of the Mahaweli River from the upper middle class, also aired similar grievances.
“The stench is unbearable and we have written over hundred letters to the authorities to do something over the past years, but no avail. Our domestic aides are from Thekkawatta describe how these cows consume everything dumped on the site. The milk from these cows is retailed. Who knows what diseases we will contract,” questioned a resident of Elephant Bath.