Sunday Observer Team, 17 May 2017
The Sunday Observer has launched “Cityscape” where our intrepid reporters will visit cities around the country, probing the shortcomings and asking the questions no one dared to ask before. In this segment of Cityscape, our staff journalists, Maneshka Borham and Husna Inayathullah are visiting the Hill Capital Kandy, the country’s second largest city, seeking answers to a host of issues including, but not limited to, garbage, air pollution and the lack of parking spaces.
Limited parking space irks ambulance drivers at kth
Ambulances parked on Keppetipola Mawatha in the limited space available.
On any given day of the week the entrance to the Kandy Teaching Hospital through the very narrow Keppetipola Road is a scene of chaos. On the left of the hospital entrance under a precarious looking Albizia tree ambulances are parked in a haphazard manner in the limited space available. Altercations and arguments are said to be common between the drivers while the limited parking space means they are also often penalized by the Police for parking violations.
According to Sampath Karunarathne, the President of the Central Province Ambulance Drivers’ Association, the Kandy Teaching Hospital does not have allocated parking spaces for ambulances arriving from other areas which has become a severe hardship for these ambulance drivers. Despite over 50 ambulances arriving daily from various areas across the island, the parking space is only enough for around 8 ambulances with many of them expected to remain there for several hours. ¨There is absolutely no parking spaces for these ambulances as you can see,¨ he points out, adding that the issue can be resolved if a new parking slot can be created close to the Kandy Hospital. Karunarathne also suggests that more parking within the hospital can be provided if the personal vehicles of the hospital staff can be limited.
¨Some staff members park as they please while others park up to three personal vehicles within the premises¨ he says, adding that this should be curtailed with ambulances being given priority. ¨Once we bring a patient, we cannot leave the patient and go, instead we should wait for long hours outside until the patient is taken to the ward.
Why cannot they give us a parking space until we finish our responsibility ?,” he questions, adding that despite their suggestions no permanent solution has been provided for this issue. However, it can be perplexing as to why ambulances of other hospitals and staff need to remain once the patient is admitted to the Kandy Teaching Hospital for the required treatment. When questioned about this, the Director of the Kandy Teaching Hospital Dr. R.M.S.K Rathnayake revealed that the root cause of such chaos was the lack of ICU beds at the hospital, a fact confirmed by Karunarathne.
¨We are forced to keep the ambulances of other hospitals till the patient is treated as the Kandy Hospital does not have adequate ICU beds,” Dr. Rathnayake says, adding that a large number of patients are transferred to his hospital for critical care on a daily basis due to the rising number of accidents. ¨Once the necessary treatment is given we once again transfer these patients back to the respective hospital as we do not have the required ICU beds to give them in house treatment,¨ Dr. Rathnayake explained, despite it being a responsibility of the hospital conducting the operation.
While the Kandy Teaching Hospital now has 7 surgical, 9 medical, 12 Neurosurgical, 6 pediatric ICU beds according to Dr. Rathnayake the issue can be resolved by adding around 20 ICU beds to the unit. ¨We have requested these beds from the Ministry,¨ he says, pointing out that it is expected to help the emergency care unit to function more efficiently. Since priority has to be given to critical patients arriving at the hospital the Director pointed out that planned surgeries get further delayed due to the lack of ICU beds, to the detriment of patients, with some even passing away before the surgery could take place. ¨Many critical care patients occupy these beds for a minimum of five days and we have to hold off the operations,¨ he says explaining that the waiting list for surgeries is on the rise.
Going back to the ambulances, Dr. Rathnayake said in some instances ambulances of other hospitals have been kept back for over four hours due to this reason with many having to return with the patient for evaluation and once again waiting it out till the patient is treated.Karunarathne also points out that with sometimes the only ambulance of a rural hospital being engaged at the Kandy Hospital, other patients at the rural hospital too can be negatively affected during a medical emergency. ¨All these issues can be avoided if the ICU is equipped with the necessary beds,¨ Dr. Rathnayake concluded.
Drought affects Mahaweli river
The long running drought has affected the Mahaweli river with its water levels looking dangerously low along with reports of residents in the Mahaweli basin facing difficulties in getting water for their daily needs. Travelling up to the Victoria Dam, water levels appear depleted. However, according to the officials of the Mahaweli Authority at the Victoria dam site, the current water levels of the river are favourable.
According to Civil Engineer at the dam, Udith Ekanayake, the water level is 411.88 m while at full capacity the water levels can rise up to 430 m. ¨There is a shortage of about 29m,¨ he said, adding that the shortage is due to the drought. Ekanayake says existing storage of 2,608.78 million cubic meters, is around 37 per cent of its storage capacity.
¨But there is no cause for alarm,¨ he said. According to Ekanayake, the prevailing water levels are acceptable and is similar to that of last year’s level during the same period.
According to Ekanayake, power generation has not been affected by the low water levels. ¨The plant is generating power despite the low water level,¨ he said assuring that power generation is continuing without any hindrance. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Mechanical Engineer of the Victoria Dam, Saliya Rathnayake said, “The power production output at the Victoria power plant this year as well as for the past four years has been favourable.” According to him in January this year, it was 5.78 GWh and in March it was 9.82 GWh.
He noted that compared to last year the dry season has lasted longer this year. ¨Generally in December, January and February, the water spilling is done but this year it was not done due to the low water level,¨ he said explaining that the Authority has faced some trouble as the spillways will not be opened this year. ¨We have enough water to generate power, but we do not know the situation of the upstream area as to whether they have enough water for cultivation, drinking and other purposes,¨ he said, adding that power will continue to be generated and fears of a stoppage are unfounded despite the plant not running at full capacity.
According to Rathnayake, the Victoria power plant can generate up to 210 megawatts of power. ¨However, the power generation level now is 74 megawatts,” he says, adding that in normal circumstances three turbines are at work but currently only one is being used to generate power. ¨Three turbines work when the dam has the maximum water level,¨ he said, adding that the current situation is normal and is expected to improve in the coming days.
The Victoria dam in the Mahaweli cascade starts from upper Kotmale with a diversion at Polgolla. Water is diverted to Ukuwela from Polgolla where it is ensured that adequate water levels are available for drinking and fisheries.
Combating air pollution
The recent tragedy at Meethotamulla has turned public attention towards the various vexed problems faced by major cities. It was caused by a combination of factors, at least some of which could have been prevented. Air pollution in the city of Kandy has been a much discussed topic for the past decade with some media reports even claiming that the city tops the list in air pollution in the island, while others stated the town is more polluted than the highly congested Colombo city.
These statements were based on a report compiled by Prof. Oliver A. Illeperuma, the former Dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya, during the years 2001 – 2005. An expert scientist, in his report Prof. Ileperuma not only identifies the possible reasons for the increase of air pollution in the city, but also provides possible solutions to mitigate the issue.
Since then however, opinions regarding the matter between experts and officials have varied. With the continued contrasting views any steps to be taken in this regard on an official level remain to be seen. Perhaps identifying a possible issue, the Air Resources Management and National Ozone Unit of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment recently acknowledged reports regarding the deterioration of air quality in Kandy by calling for the input of experts such as doctors, engineers, environmentalists as well as the public to upgrade the levels of quality in the air, in a move which can be heralded as good news for the town’s residents.
However despite the planned implementation of a possible project to improve the air quality the citizens and civil society members of Kandy have decided to take matters into their own hands by educating the public to better protect themselves from the possibility of severe air pollution that the Kandy citizenry might be experiencing unknown to them.
The Kandy Environment and Health Protection Organization, led by Co- convenor Anand H. Stephen, a civil society member of Kandy has been working tirelessly to get their message through. While the group consists of intellectuals and residents of the town, they have been conducting poster campaigns, protests and other awareness campaigns to ensure good health and protection of the environment for the residents of Kandy. According to Stephen the air quality of the town can be improved by introducing a number of changes within the city. ¨The Goodshed bus depot should be moved from the area it is now located in,¨ he says, adding that constant emissions from the buses are clearly detrimental to the school students and public in the area.
¨Asthma is a major issue among schoolchildren in Kandy today, and officials must look at this carefully¨ he points out. Stephen also suggests that the number of vehicles entering the city should be limited by introducing better parking facilities outside the city and a park and ride service for commuters wishing to enter the Kandy town. ¨Kandy is a small city and this can be a good solution for us,¨ he says.
Yet another suggestion and possible solution by his organization is the introduction of alternative roads, while also suggesting that all roads closed within Kandy be opened for traffic. ¨This can reduce emissions that are being caused due to severe traffic in the city which in turn could be polluting the air,¨ he says. However, he is also apprehensive about a proposed network of tunnels that are set to be built in Kandy to ease traffic congestion. ¨This could be another Uma Oya so it should be better looked at,¨ he suggests.
While making many suggestions for the improvement of the situation, Stephen’s organization has carried out poster campaigns recently to educate the public on possible dangers, while also demanding that action be taken to rectify the issue. ¨Recently we carried out a poster campaign to educate the public regarding the issue¨ Stephen says, adding that a CD as well as a book titled ¨Vishala Mahanuwara¨ setting out all the issues of the town has been planned by his group.
Despite the many threats received by them he says, his organization is determined to continue. ¨If we do not speak about this who else will, with the authorities turning a blind eye to the issues,¨ questions Stephen adding that many of the organization’s activities are being funded by the members themselves. ¨Our families at times are critical of us but this is something that must be done for the betterment of society¨ he says, adding that his group will continuously campaign to improve the lives, health and environment of the Kandy town.
Kandy, a visibly clean city
The City of Kandy is visibly clean. On a drive around the city it is noticeable that the town is free of garbage dumping sites or hanging bags of trash waiting for collection outside houses which are a common site in Colombo.
Since 2010, the Kandy Municipal council (KMC) has worked towards making Kandy a cleaner city which generates less garbage. ¨Our main focus has always been to ensure that less garbage is generated¨ says Kandy Municipal Commissioner Chandana Tennakoon. According to the Municipal Commissioner, the KMC has managed to do this through various innovative methods. However, with garbage management now being a much discussed topic, Tennakoon points out three main changes that needs to be made to better manage garbage and minimize its negative effects.
¨The main issue today is there is no national policy regarding garbage management,¨ he says adding that it cannot be done by the local government authorities alone. Tennakoon says just as policies have been made regarding tobacco and drugs, implementing policies for proper garbage management too is important. ¨My personal view is that polythene should be banned, poorer countries have done this, why can’t we?,¨ he questions.
Tennakoon also believes stricter laws need to be implemented regarding garbage management and disposal. ¨The people are of the opinion that garbage is the sole responsibility of a local government authority but that is not the right way to look at it,¨ he points out adding that the people too have a responsibility in limiting garbage, sorting the discarded trash and disposing of it in a responsible manner. Tennakoon says manufacturers should also be held liable for the bottles or packaging they produce and laws should be implemented ensuring their proper disposal by the manufacturers themselves. ¨These are policies adopted abroad which we can implement that will reduce the burden of garbage on the municipal councils,¨ he says.
Yet another suggestion is that private firms be established to dispose garbage collected from commercial properties. ¨Today we collect around 120 tons of trash daily but only 40 tons are street and residential garbage,¨ he points out. According to Tennakoon local government authorities under the law need not collect the garbage of commercial properties but the KMC does so by charging a fee. ¨However I feel this burden should be taken away from the municipal councils by introducing private companies for commercial garbage disposal,¨ he says.
While suggesting these possible improvements, the KMC through the years has managed to improve garbage management. Moving away from allowing people to dump garbage at sites around the clock, today the KMC directly collects garbage from the people which has to be sorted as degradable and non degradable. ¨We started segregating our garbage in 2012 and now people have got used to it,” says Tennakoon adding that with times the attitudes of people appear to have changed.
The only municipal council to appoint environment committees in villages, the KMC even collects garbage in nine specially designed trishaws from areas their collection trucks cannot reach. While the KMC collected 160 tons of trash in 2010 today it has reduced to 120 tons through their efforts to reduce the generation of garbage.Three bio-gas plants are also in the offing to further reduce the garbage being collected by the KMC.
¨We have proposed bio-gas plants for the two main markets in Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth,¨ Tennakoon says adding that feasibility tests are being carried out now. According to him today the council has managed to generate an income through an activity that once only incurred further costs.
Future of Gohagoda
With the 10-year plan launched in 2010 well underway and things looking good for the city of Kandy, the garbage mound in Tekkawatta, Gohagoda has become a point of contention. While the stench in the area is unbearable, more serious concerns regarding the dump was raised recently due to the unfortunate tragedy which occurred at the Meethotamulla dump.
While the KMC recycles or sells the majority of the garbage collected it has no facilities to recycle polythene. This being an expensive procedure, the KMC instead has educated the public on using less polythene items in their day to day lives. However today the Gohagoda garbage mound consists of wet garbage and polythene which is non biodegradable according to the KMC. KMC says, on inspection this week the National Building Research Organization has not informed them of any possible dangerous situation at the site.
However, according to the Municipal Mechanical Engineer Namal Dissanayake due to methane generation a possibility of an explosion remains in any such site. ¨However we are mitigating this by adding soil to the garbage,¨ he says.
Gohagoda is an issue which could have been resolved long years ago. In fact in 2010 a proposal was made to implement a waste to energy project at the site which would have resolved the issue of the garbage mountain in time. The initial report done had observed the possible effects of leachate on the water quality of the Mahaweli river which is close to Gohagoda while also raising concerns of gas emissions from the site. However, with operations of the project coming to a halt in April, 2016 due to issues in securing investors and bureaucratic red tape, solving the issue at Gohagoda too came to a halt. However, according to Dissanayake despite the previous failure of implementing such a project a new proposal has now once again been made to construct a fertilizer plant and a waste to energy generation plant at the site.
¨We are hoping to use a new German technology called Combitech for the project,¨ he says adding that if approved the work on the plant will start within one year.
But the proposed project is not without its concerns. ¨The wetness of the garbage collected might be an issue as it will be difficult to incinerate,¨ says Dissanayake pointing out that wetness of garbage collected from residences locally is about 75 per cent. ¨There is also the issue whether enough garbage can be collected for the project¨ he says. According to him only around 10 municipal councils in Sri Lanka collect over 100 tons of garbage today. However, if successful, according to Dissanayake the project will utilize the trash collected at the garbage dumping site which will see its disappearance in years to come providing a solution to the long standing issues.
‘From trash to treasure’
Next month, the Kandy Municipal council (KMC) through a public, private and community partnership will open the doors to a shop featuring items created through recycling as well as second hand goods. In a creative bid to change the attitudes of the people the message the KMC hopes to drive home is that ‘Trash can be a treasure’.
This shop which will be located in Kandy town according to Municipal Commissioner Chandana Tennakoon will feature a range of goods created through various discarded items while second hand items handed over by the public will also be sold at the premises extending the flea market concept which has been in practice within the KMC areas.
The new venture is in fact a partnership between Earth bound, a business which creates its products solely through trash and the KMC. As the saying goes indeed one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure which can be evidenced by the founder of Earthbound, Sagara Ranga Liyanage.
Partnering with the KMC, Earthbound has created a large number of self employment opportunities for a number of villagers in Kandy while also creating a line of products which are now being exported to countries such as Italy, U.K, USA, Australia, Qatar, Germany, Hong Kong, Maldives and the Netherlands. ¨I selected to use garbage to do my creations because of its environmental friendliness and low cost of sourcing,¨ Liyanage says adding that around 250 families work to make products such as bowls, tablemats, coasters, pencil holders, pencils and much more from discarded trash.
According to Liyanage the majority of those employed, work from their own homes and deliver the products made to the business. ¨We provide them with all know how and technology from our end for making products,¨ he says adding that these external employees from low and middle income generating household earn Rs.15,000-25,000 as an additional income monthly.
While receiving the necessary support from the KMC, Liyanage says the council does a good job in collecting waste and segregating them very well. But Liyanage says manufacturing technology and machinery for these type of products is lacking in Sri Lanka. ¨Currently we have to build machinery and moulds by ourselves. If we get assistance for such technology it will uplift our business and the community,” he says adding that his business uses around two metric tons of newspaper per month.
Liyanage also notes that the attitude of the people about garbage has changed after working for Earthbound, with many of them now valuing what they earlier considered to be waste, an attitude which he wishes will be adopted by all Sri Lankans for a cleaner country.
Expert and Official Opinion on Air Pollution in Kandy
Chandana Tennakoon, Kandy Municipal Commissioner says: “A person has expressed his views regarding the possible air pollution in the city of Kandy. Anyone could express their opinions regarding any matter. But if a government agency such as the Central Environment Authority can confirm these claims we are ready to accept it. According to recent reports and tests done by the CEA, the city of Kandy has not exceeded the recommended air quality levels. However, we have also asked the CEA to conduct further investigations to reconfirm the matter¨
Dr. R.M.S.K Rathnayake, Director of the Kandy Teaching Hospital says: “I have inquired from our consultants and we have not identified a rapid increase in respiratory diseases in Kandy which can be linked to air pollution. However, I have also requested for the latest data but even if there is a small increase it cannot be directly linked to possible air pollution. It may or may not be the cause if an increase is seen. This fact will have to be established. But, with the increasing traffic, a connection between air pollution and respiratory disease in Kandy cannot be ruled out either.¨
Prof. O. A. Ileperuma, Former Dean of the Faculty of Science, University of Peradeniya says: “The report I compiled was done in good faith and as a service to the people. I no longer wish to speak on the matter as I have been labelled as a troublemaker and a liar by various parties even though I presented them with proof of air pollution in the city.¨
Cityscapes team : Maneshka Borham, Husna Inayathullah . Photos by Rukmal Gamage. Graphic by Manoj Nishantha