The Meetotamulla tragedy has left us with many unanswered questions. What happened? Why hadn’t the authorities acted on the requests by residents?
Although the incident took everyone by shock, the tragedy was in fact long in the making. For years, the residents have been protesting about the garbage dump and have continuously requested the authorities to move the dump away from the location.
However, the lack of a timely action had resulted in last week’s tragedy that killed dozens. Soon after the incident, residents who survived the tragedy stated that there were, in fact, many previous signs of an impending catastrophe.
Residents had reportedly said that there had been slight movements of structures during the few months that led to the tragedy.
Accordingly, there have been instances where a parapet wall of a house would slant towards the adjacent residence.
However, the residents had ignored these signs and continued to live with them as they did not expect the entire ground to collapse and bury them.
There are many aspects of this incident that needs to be addressed and dealt with. There is a responsibility on the part of the people, in this case the residents, to be alert. People usually react when something unusual happens for the first time. The classic example is the budget. When a price of an essential item, say bread, is increased, there would be protests and the people would grumble.
But, they would continue to buy bread because it has become an essential part of their lives.
In other words, people react initially to a problem and then come to terms with it. Complacency occurs at both ends. The state becomes inactive, the public remain dormant. The problem escalates.
It applies to everything, even jobs. The most common advice you would get when you start doing a tough job is, “You will only find it hard during the initial stages, and then you will get used to it as time passes.”
There is nothing wrong in getting used to the environment around you and adapting accordingly. But, what if the change is not healthy? Yes, you would protest, or react soon after the change. But why get used to it if it is going to be detrimental for you? The people in Meetotamulla did come across signs that gave a very negative vibe. They did know that something was not right in their neighbourhood.
The biggest blunder they made was to live with the problems and taking these signs a tad bit lightly.
It is this mindset of the people that even governments sometimes take advantage of. Why get used to stuff and end up being a victim?
The authorities have the duty to address the issue. But we have learnt in the past, and now, that the action is sometimes a tad late. Are we to wait until things go out of control? There were tragedies in the past. There was the tsunami which killed thousands. People rose up, they stood up for those affected. Experts called for a proper early warning system. But is it in place 13 years later?
Are we prepared to face another catastrophe of such magnitude? There were drought situations during which people suffered and called for long-term solutions, including planting of trees. But all were forgotten when the first drop of rain hit the dusty ground. The tragedy in Meetotamulla did shock us, anger us, and frustrate us. There was an uproar, there was fury.
But are we going to learn to live with it like we did with the previous disasters? Also if the public does not demand, then they do not get service, that is universal truth in any interaction be it at state level or in the service provided by the private sector. This dynamism brings upward mobility in lifestyles. Sooner our society understands it the better.
We as humans are smart enough to understand the changes around us. But are we alert?
Published in the Nation on April 22, 2017