Meethotamulla Tragedy: A Helping Hand From Technology


Meethotamulla. A month back most would not have even known what or where that is. But today, there’s hardly a Sri Lankan who isn’t familiar with the name. Sadly its not for a good reason. On the 14th of April, the residents of Meethotamulla had to face a tragic disaster. A portion of the garbage dump (mountain?) came crashing down, taking lives and the homes of its residents. Following these events, the Meethotamulla garbage mountain became quite the hot topic, particularly on Social Media. Fingers were pointed, environmental experts suddenly started popping up, and all of a sudden garbage has become a very serious issue.

Meethotamulla-Disaster-tenderIts sad that innocent lives had to be lost for some of us to take waste management seriously. It’s becoming more evident now that serious measures need to be implemented, at least starting at a minuscule level. But what about technology? Can technology help us manage/prevent crisis situations like these? The answer is a resounding yes. Look no further than how technology came to the rescue during the dreadful floods Sri Lanka experienced last year. Then again, is the government doing anything about this at all? Well, it looks like they are trying.

Meethotamulla: Getting The Much Needed Data

Meethotamulla | MIC
Installing the sensors at the Meethotamulla dump

Following initial tests from a visiting Japanese research team, the dump was found to contain Methane-gas-filled air pockets in the garbage mountain. This would prove to be quite dangerous should the Methane level exceed tolerable amounts. Thereby, its vital that these Methane levels are accurately measured. This is where the technology comes in. Under the President’s orders, the Mobitel Innovation Center (MIC) was tasked with getting this much needed data. In case you weren’t aware, Mobitel Innovation Center is the innovation arm of Mobitel. Remember the Smart Bus Stand that was showcased at Infotel back in 2015? That was the MIC team.

Meethotamulla | MIC
The MIC team assessing the situation at Meethotamulla

So how does one go about getting this done? We decided to find out ourselves in person. Meeting up with the MIC team yesterday, we were told that specialized sensors would be used for this purpose. The sensors would be placed at a specific location at the dump where the required readings will be constantly recorded. These readings are then stored in a server. Once enough data is available, then its just a matter of time. Since the sensors are solar powered, the system will operate 24/7. In addition to methane, the system will also record Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide levels, along with Humidity as well.

What’s Next?

The immediate concern would be to determine whether Methane is at a dangerous level at Meethotamulla garbage dump. Any follow up procedure in this regard would depend on the results from these sensors.

But a few sensors would solve little. This is only a tip toe in the right direction. There’s a lot more to be done by the authorities. They need to understand and utilize technology even further. We’ve seen how already available tech could have helped manage last year’s flood situation. Turning waste into energy solutions need to be looked at immediately. Politicians wasting tax money on waste management conferences in other countries will do none of us good. After all, its not rocket science. Here’s Chinthaka Abeysekara from Sisili Projects Consortium speaking at TEDx Colombo 2016 about waste management, how it can become a valuable resource than just waste.

Ultimately, we’re all partly to blame. From all those little wrappings and plastics, to unused electronics, we pretty much throw away everything without giving a second thought. Eventually innocent people had to pay with their lives. Our only hope is that history not repeat itself. Nobody should ever go through such tragedy. But the question remains, with the availability of so many resources and technology, surely we can do something about this?


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