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Illegal Waste Dumping in the Muthurajewela Wetlands, Sri Lanka

Illegal Waste Dumping Continues to Occur in Muthurajawela Wetlands Due to Lack of Governmental Regulation.


Muthurajawela wetlands is the largest saline coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka, and is situated in the southern region of the Negombo lagoon and located 30 kilometers north of Colombo [1]. The marshes spread over 3,068 hectares and is a hotspot for tourists and locals for bird-watching, sightseeing and boating tours [1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Illegal Waste Dumping in the Muthurajewela Wetlands, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:Western Province
Location of conflict:Muthurajawela- Negombo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Tourism services
Industrial waste
hospital waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-Around 60 lorries from the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) take garbage to the Muthurajawela sanctuary every day.

Project area:3,068
Level of Investment:n/a
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1,000 - 50,0000
Start of the conflict:16/02/2017
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development (MPWD)
Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR)
National Government
Colombo Municipal Council (CMC)
Urban Development Authority (UDA)
Central Environmental Authority (CEA)
Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Center for Environmental Justice -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsThe marsh, along with the Negombo Lagoon, form an integrated coastal wetland ecosystem, which harbours over 194 species of flora and over 178 species of vertebrate fauna which is affected by toxic pollution.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents
Other Health impactsCommunity members have indicated a level of fear for their lives and fear individuals/groups that allow for the issue to persist.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsLocal fisherman are also being affected by the waste dumping because of the increasing rates of dying fish within the lagoon.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The issue is ongoing and is difficult to say if environmental justice has been achieved. There is corruption that occurs at the level of government and success would be best identified as direct action to solve the problem.
A writ petition has been filed in the Court of Appeal by the Centre for Environmental Justice on 26th January 2021 challenging the illegal landfills and dumping of garbage in the Muthurajawela wetlands. - CEJ (2021)
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[4] Center for Environmental Justice. (2021). CEJ filed a case CA WRT 43/21 on Muthurajawela.
[click to view]

[click to view]

[11] Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance
[click to view]

[12] National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[7]Athukorala, D., Estoque, R. C., Murayama, Y., & Matsushita, B. (2021). Impacts of urbanization on THE Muthurajawela Marsh and NEGOMBO Lagoon, Sri Lanka: Implications for Landscape Planning towards a sustainable URBAN wetland ecosystem. Remote Sensing, 13(2), 316. doi:10.3390/rs13020316

[5]Wickramasinghe S.M., Piyadasa R.U.K., Maheepala S.A.D.S.S. and Jayasinghe G.Y. (2018) Impact of Municipal Solid Waste disposal on soil and water quality: A case study from Muthurajawela wetland, 11th International Research Conference of KDU, General Sir John KotelawalaDefence University, Ratmalana, Sri Lanka

[1]Mendis, R. (2019). The ugly side of Muthurajawela
[click to view]

[9]Ceylon Today (2020). From Royal Treasure to Garbage Dump: Tragedy of Muthurajawela.
[click to view]

[2]Mudugamuwa, M. (2020). Muthurajawela landfill: Pressure to stop filling.
[click to view]

[3]Daily News. (2017). Archbishop protests dumping of garbage in Muthurajawela
[click to view]

[6]The Week (2019). Sri Lanka and UK in standoff over Rotting waste. Retrieved March 29, 2021, from
[click to view]

[8]Nizam, I., (2021). The only reason for vesting Muthurajawela under the UDA.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[13] Facebook Community - Muthurajawela Garbage Dump
[click to view]

Other comments:- Muthurajawela can be translated as 'Swamp of Royal Treasure'
- The land is also recognised as one of Sri Lanka's 12 priority wetlands. However, despite this status, the wetland is provided very little protection in reality.
Meta information
Contributor:Dillon Fernando, University of Manitoba, [email protected]
Last update19/09/2021
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