Fri | May 26, 2017

Gov't doing rubbish

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 3:00 AM

Driving out to Norman Manley International Airport this Wednesday, I was thinking that if you stop along that beautiful highway, as I have done, and take a closer look into Kingston's splendid harbour, you see the disgusting refuse of the city. Old stoves and buckets and mesh wire and plastic bottles. Lots and lots of plastic bottles.

The closer up you get, the less appealing the whole thing becomes. Because the beautiful harbour is, in fact, a massive toilet, courtesy of the Government's inability to stop refuse and waste coming down into it.

My grandfather used to swim across the harbour. I wouldn't put my big toe into it.

As we proceeded towards the airport, we could see a massive column of smoke curling into the sky. Riverton dump was on fire, yet again. And just like with the harbour, the closer you get to why this is happening, and why nothing is ever done about it, the worse it looks.

As I write, The Gleaner has posted up a story with the headline 'Students rushed to hospital, more schools closed as Riverton smoke worsens'. All Corporate Area schools were ordered closed Friday. GSAT exams are set for next week. What about these students?

Once again, our garbage at Riverton has gone international. ABC News reports: "There's virtually no control over what is dumped, so all manner of industrial and commercial waste burns when fires start ... . About three years ago, a government study found that alarming levels of volatile organic compounds were released by a blaze at the site managed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority. The cancer-causing chemical benzene was detected at three times the World Health Organization's air standard."

Meanwhile, the 'health service', already creaking, will probably completely expire from the stampede of those sickened with allergies, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and other ailments triggered by this toxic mess. And, of course, sufferers of various respiratory diseases aren't the only ones who should be concerned.

 

loss in productivity

 

Quite apart from the numerous other sicknesses this toxic dump will hasten or worsen, I wonder if the general loss in productivity caused by this sort of fire has ever been quantified. It must be significant, because all of Kingston and St Catherine was thrown into chaos as the smog settled on the city and decided to stay for dinner.

Before anyone rushes out to say that I have an interest, let me put it out there. I have played a role in advocating for one of the many solutions offered to help alleviate this problem. Recall that this administration was greeted by a fire at the Riverton dump when it came into office. I'm thinking back to January 2012 now. On that occasion, the blaze also made international news.

As it happens, I was contacted by a group of businessmen who have been trying since to put a waste-to-energy solution on the table. But that's just one possible solution. There have been multiple mentions in the newspapers of energy or waste-management companies willing to do something productive with the waste.

Nor am I saying that a solution will be easy to arrange. For example, the last administration had a process that included money spent on a study of the waste and an elaborate tender process, after which nobody did anything. But at this point, this Government needs to NOT do nothing. In other words: Do something!

 

Who's responsible

 

Something is seriously wrong here. Look at it. Riverton dump falls directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Local Government. That minister is a vice-president of the ruling party. Also, the Ministry of Environment, charged to see that the environment isn't poisoning us and we're not poisoning it, must see this problem as within its jurisdiction. That minister has been the chairman of the ruling Party for the past two decades.

Riverton itself is in the constituency of St Andrew Western, whose member of parliament is also the minister of investment and commerce, and also deputy chairman of the ruling party.

Kingston, where people are choking, has a mayor who is also a vice-president of the ruling party. The solution to the Riverton problem will likely involve an energy component, the responsible minister for which is also the chairman for the ruling party's regional machinery.

All of those I mention are, as far as I know, well-intentioned, and some of them are even effective in discharging their other responsibilities. And yet, all of this executive and political horsepower has been unwilling or unable to make any progress towards stopping Riverton dump from poisoning us.

As standards of living improve and Jamaicans consume more, they will produce more solid waste. That's part of the plan, right? To grow the economy so that standards of living and consumption will increase. So how isn't it part of the plan to do something with the inevitable waste?

I'll say this: The mere fact that it's being overlooked tells us that something is fundamentally broken. Meanwhile, the children are choking because of how Government does rubbish.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.