Colombo, Development, Politics and Governance

The Big Stink in Sri Lanka


Every day, we fight several battles – from inflation to traffic to our friendly neighborhood cop. Our battles are many, but our defeat in one particular battle stands out, quite spectacularly.  Sign boards saying “Mehi kunu dameema ballanta pamanai” (Only dogs may dump garbage here) are testimony that we did not go down without a fight, that we tried our best.

Whenever I see these signs on people’s walls I’m always intrigued because the garbage issue seems to be problem that never seems to go away, and in true Sri Lankan style, we are always quick to blame the Government or even cite a Western conspiracy. While the blame does partially lie in the hands of the Government, the average Sri Lankan’s attitude towards, or, if you like, solution for, the garbage problem never fails to amaze me.

Dumping your trash in front of another person’s house seems to be the common and recommended solution. Live on the 4th floor and have no time to place your garbage bag in front of your neighbor’s gate? No problem, just throw it from your balcony in the general direction of your target. If the garbage collection service on your road is a myth, it is still always best to keep your garbage bags on the road anyway… just in case.

It IS frustrating, not to have a regular garbage collection service or even a dumping ground nearby. But leaving it outside another person’s house is not the answer. That garbage has to end up somewhere and most often than not, garbage that is gifted to different parts of the city end up in the same place – the gutter.

Since the Government is clearly not giving any solution to this problem, we should keep dumping our garbage anywhere, as we please. And during the torrential rain, we shall watch as they block our drains and flood our streets and keep complaining that while the Government can win the war against the LTTE, they cannot conquer the garbage crisis.