People surrounded by garbage, darkness and hunger


By Nirmala Kannangara

The stench is unbearable and the possibility of  a mosquito-borne epidemic is everywhere. To add to their woes, the  rain gods show no mercy to them. This is the real-life situation at the new houses in Henamulla situated at  Madampitiya. The area is  better known as punchi Somaliyawa.




With more than 300 dwellings made out of wood and  gunny sacks the residents are battling to survive on their own  as they have been neglected by the different governments.

Living by the city's  garbage dump and making their living from the garbage, their whole world has become a garbage dump. Not only are the mothers and fathers  eagerly collecting whatever refuse they could  use to  make their lives 'comfortable' at the dump site; but the little ones too have learned to help their parents. The dump  has become the haven for the children. They play on the dump and the rotting  rotten food  that they find are eaten without a second thought. For them, the delicious food  comes from the  garbage.       

Although they are the most suitable segment in the country to receive Samurdi they are deprived of any sort of relief. Despite the garbage and the stench,  they remain happy but their only request is  to have electricity at least to the walkways. The Armor Street Ceylon Electricity Board  however has requested them to bring a letter from a politician from the governing party if they are to be  given lighting to  the pathways. It is disheartening to note that the government departments, which run with the aid of  public money too have become politicized.  

"Earlier Jayantha mahaththaya (referring to a former UNP Colombo Municipal Councilor) gave lights to this watte  (garden) but two years ago it was disconnected and at there is complete darkness in the night. The young girls cannot move around as 'grease yakkas' (devils covered in grease)  try to drag the girls for their pleasure. There are many thieves  and we cannot move out even for a second during night as they steal our pot of rice - our only meal for the day," lamented these innocents.

Meanwhile they further stated that although they complained about the grease yakka and the thieves to the Grandpass Police Station they have so far not yet taken action to apprehend the culprit.

 "Recently I saw someone peep from the roof and when I shouted he ran away.. All the men around us ran behind him but failed to catch him. Later we found out that this grease yakka comes in the nude to drag girls. It is unfortunate that the police who are here for our protection  have so far failed to deploy a constable to ensure our safety. The police ask us to identify  the grease yakka and the thieves.  If we are aware of the identity of the grease yaka and the thieves then we would have not gone to the police,"" they added.     

When The Sunday Leader visited the punchi Somaliyawa last week, the residents  thronged around  the vehicle to find out whether we have arrived with  food and dry rations. But realizing it was not so, not only the elders the little ones  too were disappointed.

According to them when it rains the water from the dump comes into their houses and as their cozy beds are the non cemented floor they are deprived of at least the sleep that they really need. "We only see a fairy tale world in our dreams. But because of the rain we are deprived of having  even a  pleasant dream as we are awake till morning. We keep our children on our laps. Due to this water and garbage entering our hopes we  cannot light the hearth," added the people.

When asked why they failed to tell their grievances to their 'people's representatives' they told The Sunday Leader that they do not know where they live and who represent them in the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

"We see new faces only during the election time. They come to get our votes promising sun and the moon but after the election they vanish," they said.

Adding to their unhappy livelihood is the  present skyrocketing  cost of living which  has pushed them from pillar to post. According to them their small children are now fed with plain tea as the price of a packet of milk powder is unreachable. The boutiques at punchi Somaliyawa sell milk powder in small quantities.

One ounce of milk powder is priced Rs.18 and if they could collect money they buy an ounce for the children. For them with the latest price hike in food their main three meals have now been  reduced to one. "We cannot afford to eat three meals. Each family here comprises  at least five members so with the price increases in  bread, flour, rice and manioc how can we afford to eat three meals. If we want to eat  bread we have to buy at least  two and a half loaves and if it is rice we need  a kilo is needed. It is the same situation with the manioc. Even if we  manage to buy some  wheat flour what could we make with it. To eat rotti how can we buy a coconut? Although we could buy half a coconut, that too  costs  Rs.20. Who can afford to pay Rs.20 for the coconut," they asked.

Their only source of income is either to sell the pieces of firewood that collects from the garbage dump or to do any daily paid job. But as those who offered 'odd' jobs to people have now found it difficult because the employers too have begun to think twice before employing labourers owing to the high expenditure that they themselves have to incur.

Although mosquitoes and flies are everywhere, be it during the day or night, according to these residents, the CMC has never visited this area to spray chemicals  or even tried to take any action to eradicate this menace. "Each house has at least three small children. We are worried about  dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases which we hear are spreading near garbage dumps," they said.

It is their  request that the  mayor, CMC or any other responsible officer construct a proper waste water drainage system as the waste water too has become a nuisance to the residents.

"This becomes worse during rainy season. We are suffering immensely but those who are in the power owing to  our votes are living comfortably. We are waiting to 'greet' the politicians in a 'different' way when they come begging for our vote next time. Unless we teach them a lesson they will not realize their mistakes," they said  angrily.       

These are what these innocent shanty dwellers had to say about their grievances-

Sandeepani who is twelve years old told The Sunday Leader  that she has not eaten any food for the last couple of days as her mother cannot afford to buy bread for them. "I am the eldest of four. Our father left us a few years ago and the only meal what we get is from the school. Today I had some green gram at school. That is the only meal for the day," Sandeepani said.

When asked as to how they manage their hunger little Sandeepani innocently said that they could manage their hunger with water. "We can starve as we are used to this. I do not know the taste of milk and I have never tasted fish, meat or any other good food. Since I do not know its taste I do not like to eat," Sandeepani said.

 Shashikala, Amalez, Renuka, Nazwar were also relating tales of want and starvation. . They spoke of their great need for  Samurdi. "Please give us Samurdi as we are the most eligible people to get this. With  the prices of kerosene oil too at its peak we  do not light a lamp at home and have to in live darkness. Why cannot the government give us a kerosene oil card? Nothing is done to help us but they seem to  serve them selves," they said in disappointment.

Meanwhile S. Mohammed whose child goes to Amzar Maha Muslim Vidyalaya told The Sunday Leader that his child was asked to pay Rs.250  for the National Identity Card (NIC). "Being a government school why did the school asked the children to pay Rs.250 for the NIC. We brought the photos but why ask Rs.250? When I asked for a receipt the school refused and to add to this burden my child was asked to bring Rs.400 for the GCE O/L exam. The school authorities have pointed out that those who do not bring the money will  not be sent for the exam. Is there a regulation as such? I want to clarify this from the Education Ministry," Mohammad said.

It is the responsibility of the government to look after these innocent people who were deprived of Samurdi and other basic facilities that they are entitled to.