For years, Sri Lanka’s Meethotamulla dump had provoked the ire of nearby residents. For months, residents of the shantytown had protested the dump’s presence right next to their homes. Situated not too far from Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, the garbage dump stood 300-feet tall, and 800 tons of trash were dumped onto the site every day, BBC reports.
And on Friday, it collapsed.
Investigations are still ongoing, but as of Monday morning, a reported 29 people had been killed, with an estimated 30 still missing.
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“It's very unfortunate that no one listened to us,” one resident told the BBC on Friday. “Now, after so many deaths, politicians are saying they will stop dumping garbage. These are murders, we will take legal action.”
On Friday, Sri Lanka Military spokesman Roshan Senivirathna told Reuters that survival was "very unlikely" for the remaining trapped residents.
The tragic incident brings to light a major challenge rapidly-developing countries like Sri Lanka face around the world: trash disposal.
The world produces 1.3 billion tons of waste each year, according to Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, senior director for the World Bank's Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice. And in many cases, the onus for this trash accumulation falls on the world’s most marginalized populations.
Ijjasz-Vasquez estimated that for some cities in developing countries, 20% to 50% of their budgets are spent on waste management.
Read more: These Are the World's Most Wasteful Cities
Trash accumulation near informal shantytowns and slums is not only a financial burden, but also a public health concern, a condition residents of the Meethotamulla were all-too-aware of, even before the collapse of the trash heap.
According to Ijjasz-Vasquez the “frequency of illness such as diarrhea doubles and acute respiratory infection...is six times higher” when populations are exposed to uncollected waste.
Though the Sri Lankan government has said the trash formerly dumped at Meethotamulla will now be split into two different trash collection sites, the damage is already done. More than 140 houses have been damaged, according to NBC News. Around 600 people were displaced, according to the New Indian Express.
Perhaps most tragically, among the 29 dead, seven were children, their lives cut short by a preventable disaster.