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"Binning" Farewell to Disaster
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Lakmini Dissanayake, American Red Cross in Colombo, Sri Lanka
May 26, 2009

In the village of Egoda Uyana North, in southwest Sri Lanka, Sarath Fernando is using compost bins to reduce the impacts of disasters. The village has a long history of epidemics, urban flooding and other environmental issues and was particularly affected by the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which destroyed apart of the community.

Egoda Uyana
In addition to adding fertilizer for vegetation, Sarath Fernando’s compost bin keeps the nearby water drains free of debris and waste. Lakmini Dissanayake/American Red Cross

With the help of the American Red Cross, Mr. Fernando and his family are using a compost bin to help remove from the streets household garbage that blocks drains and causes flooding. Area residents, such as the Fernando family, cited a lack of proper waste disposal systems as the reason for the blocked drains. During the rainy season, a combination of significantly elevated water levels and drains full of refuse was leading to disastrous results.

The problems associated with poor drainage were made worse in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami and in the years following. Eventually, water stopped draining altogether. Stagnant floodwater led to an increase in mosquitoes and higher instances of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever (a virus similar in genetic composition and symptoms to yellow fever and West Nile virus).

With the support and guidance of the American Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, the community chose to establish an effective garbage disposal system, involving widespread use of compost bins, to mitigate urban flooding and decrease instances of dengue fever.

"Through compost bins, households convert their waste into nutrient-rich organic fertilizer," said Poorna Yahampath, Disaster Preparedness Technical Advisor for the American Red Cross in Sri Lanka. "With the involvement of the Community members, we distributed 50 compost bins to the households in Egoda Uyana North."

Composting is the process by which organic materials are broken down into their chemical components. Materials such as tea leaves, egg shells, leaves, newspapers and garden waste are placed in the plastic bins where they are broken down into nutrient-rich compost with the help of microorganisms in the soil, water, heat, and a nitrogen-rich catalyst material added by the owner.

"Thanks to the compost bin, garbage is not a burden anymore… [the bin] is multifunctional," said Fernando of his new garden addition. "It helps prevent floods, makes the environment cleaner and also provides us with organic fertilizer to help us grow fresh vegetables."

Not only are the compost bins keeping drainage systems clear of solid waste, they are also helping families grow their own food. Like Fernando, many in Egoda Uyana North are now playing an active role in beautifying their environment, preventing flooding and reducing the incidence of disease in their communities. 

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.

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