Post-Disaster C&D Waste Management: The Case of COWAM Project in Sri Lanka

Gayani Karunasena
Raufdeen Rameezdeen
Dilanthi Amarathunga


Waste management is considered to be the weakest phase in responding to a disaster. This became apparent when Sri Lanka suffered enormously from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The City of Galle located on the south coast was severely affected by this event, causing some 4000 deaths and destroying over 15000 houses. The Construction Waste Management (COWAM) project funded by the European Union from 2005-2009 looked at the most sustainable ways of dealing with Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste after a disaster and devised a pilot C&D recycling plant (COWAM Centre) in Galle. This paper reflects on the C&D waste management practices followed by the city authorities during the recovery and reconstruction phase right up to the operation of the COWAM Centre with the intention of seeking best practices for the future. As part of the COWAM case study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with municipal authorities and voluntary organizations to identify the C&D waste management process followed during recovery and reconstruction. Empirical data was collected from actual demolition sites located in Galle to establish the quantity of C&D waste, composition, hazardous substances found, and collection efficiency. Findings revealed that waste was disposed initially into temporary dumping sites and later re-cycled through the COWAM Centre. However, this study found many issues that could have been avoided if Galle Municipal Council had planned and implemented a quick C&D waste management strategy. Key issues which arose were lack of heavy vehicles, lack of manpower, inability to forecast the amount and composition of waste, and inability to identify suitable temporary dumping sites. The characteristics of C&D waste gave a baseline for the design of COWAM Centre. The paper presents a viable approach to overcome issues pertaining to C&D waste management during the aftermath of a disaster through the lessons learned from the COWAM project.

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