While the issue of pollution from coal-fired power stations is being debated around the world, few residents can be so badly affected those who live near the Lakvijaya Power plant at Norochchcolai on the southern end of Sri Lanka’s Kalpitiya Peninsula.
In recent weeks they have been deluged in ash whipped up by the monsoon winds. Along with the usual respiratory problems, even the fundamental activities of life have become a challenge.
Not only did it become impossible to dry clothes outside, but flying dust, ash and charcoal settled on food.
“We simply cannot cook; we have to buy pre-packaged food from the supermarket, but that is too expensive for poor people,” one resident said.
As if this were not bad enough, hot water from Lakvijaya is being pumped into the sea, ruining the region’s fishing industry. Fisher Peter Warnakulasuria believes this is illegal “but it has been going on for some time and no-one seems to care”.
Those who do care include members of Sri Lanka’s environmental movement, who have filed cases against the power plant after receiving “plenty of promises but no action”.
Local Councillor M.C. Alexander is supporting the case. He says officials of the Ceylon Electricity Board said they would plant a wall of trees to stop the ash blowing into residential areas and even suggested they could store the ash and sell it to the cement industry, but nothing came of either proposal.
“We have been raising these issues for five years now. There has been plenty of time to do something,” Mr Alexander said.
“Some of the residents said they would move away if they had somewhere else to go, but they are poor people. All that they have is here.”
Commissioned in March, 2011, the power plant, the largest in Sri Lanka, has a history of problems, including a series of breakdowns and outages, the most recent earlier this year.
Allegations that it was not built to international standards, have been laid at the door of the previous Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the contractors claiming the particular materials used were agreed at the highest level.
All this wrangling does nothing to alleviate the misery of the local inhabitants. Mr Alexander said the area was once quite prosperous with thriving agricultural plantations. Now the incessant rain of ash has created a wasteland.
“Nothing grows here now — and unless something is done soon, nothing will grow here ever again,” he said.