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Illegal Waste Dumping in the Muthurajewela Wetlands, Sri Lanka


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].

In 1996, the northern part of the marsh that covers over 1,777 hectares was declared a wetland sanctuary under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) [1]. According to several sources, governmental agencies in Sri-lanka provided permission for temporary dumping in 2017, but the area has now turned into a permanent dumping site [1][2]. Protests in 2017 urged the government to stop the illegal dumping in the Muthurajawela marsh [3].

Locals and other members of the community have pointed out the disregard for the environment by the Colombo Municipal Council and other governmental agencies [3]. Around 60 lorries from the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) take garbage to the Muthurajawela sanctuary every day [1]. 40 lorries coming from Kelaniya and Gamapaha region were also being deposited in the sanctuary [1][3]. The Pilapitiya paddy field which is now known as the Ambalammulla garbage dump, is located within the Muthurajawela wetland ecosystem [9]. This site has been used as a garbage dumping site for solid waste by the Katunayake-Seeduwa Urban Council for over 20 years [9]. 

Furthermore, several factories operating in and around Muthurajawela and in the vicinity of the wetland have been releasing toxic waste and effluents into the protected zones [4]. Some of these factories have received Environmental Protection Licenses, but the lack off monitoring and accountability allow for these factories to continue to generate harmful pollutants into the Muthurajawela wetland [4].

In order for waste to be deposited in an area, there must first be a formal Environmental Impact Assessment conducted under the National Environmental Act [4]. The illegal dumping within the area violated Section 33 [1] of the Agrarian Development Act and Section 7 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance [4]. Internationally generated waste has also been deposited in Muthurajawela wetlands [6]. The waste disposed in the wetland area isn’t limited to general waste but also hospital waste coming from Colombo General Hospital [1]. Waste that is incinerated and burnt is disposed off in the waterways inside Muthurajawela and is passed on to the Hamilton Canal which finally ends up in the sea [1].

Local fisherman are also being affected by the waste dumping because of the increasing rates of dying fish within the lagoon [1][7]. Surface water samples and ground water samples taken from several locations in the Muthurajawela wetland found high concentrations of nitrates, sulphates, phosphates, calcium and magnesium levels which were exceeding the standard permissible levels [5]. The pungent smell generated by the waste has also raised serious concerns amongst residents as well [1].

According to Athukorala [7], waste dumping is not the only illegal activity that is occurring in the Muthurajawela wetlands. An article by Nizam [8] states that the activities in the wetland areas have resulted in the loss of over 1,864 hectares. Illegal settlements, illegal fishing and illegal clearing of trees within the wetland are also occurring [7]. At this time (May 2021) further investigations into these issues are being conducted. 

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.


[11] Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance

[12] National Environmental Act No. 47 of 1980

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[13] Facebook Community - Muthurajawela Garbage Dump

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



Waste Dumping site in Muthurajawela

This picture is obtained from the Daily Mirror (2019) -

Extent of waste collection with the Muthurajawela Wetland

This picture is obtained from the Daily News (2017) -