Tue | Aug 14, 2018

If you had the courage, what would you do to fix the problem at Riverton

Published:Tuesday | March 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO, Jamaica Public Service Company
William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.
Mark Hart, executive chairman, Caribbean Producers (Jamaica) Ltd

Establishment of a public- private-sector partnership; a business plan; and public education and waste-to-energy programmes are being mooted as solutions that can once and for all eliminate the fires perennially disrupting the lives of Jamaicans in the capital city.

The latest onslaught on the city of Kingston has been happening for six consecutive days with no end in sight. Unwelcome presence of heavy smoke from the smouldering Riverton City disposal site has intruded homes, schools, business places and just about everywhere else on its unhealthy rampage.

The disposal site started to burn last week Wednesday and sent an increasing number of Jamaicans scurrying for cover. Many also collapsed with breathing disorders.

Productivity levels nosedived and schools closed their doors but could not keep out the sickening fumes that kept up their relentless aggression.

Although the Government and its officials sought to open dialogue through press conferences, they have effectively failed to end the smoking charge on the city.

The Gleaner has turned to some prominent Jamaicans to get their take on how to deal with a smoke assault on the city of Kingston that has refused to yield for almost a week.

William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica

The Riverton dump has been a source of many years of disgraceful fires, leaving the city of Kingston covered in a fog-like smoke, our communities with burning throats and eyes and countless immeasurable long-term effects on our children, not to mention the economic impact. This year it is patently more damaging because it is the week in which many of the 10- and 11-year-olds in the city were preparing and expecting to sit GSAT and the disruption could not come at a worse time. I realise that the facility is a large and difficult area to manage, but the resources are needed to do it effectively as we cannot continue to pay the price through the nations ill health, as they say, prevention is better than cure.

I would like to see immediately a joint public private partnership committee put in place (similar to the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team) to manage the affairs of the dump. The committee should have the technical, environmental and economic competence made up to be able to ensure proper governance going forward. We should also look at the possibility of privatising the facility. An educational campaign needs to be initiated immediately on the proper handling of solid waste in the country from a sorting to collection and treatment. These matters are of national importance and we are going to continue to appeal to the government to ensure that they are followed through.

Mark Hart, executive chairman, Caribbean Producers (Jamaica) Ltd

This current Riverton fire has the potential of being one of Jamaica's worst disasters. The smoke that has engulfed the surrounding communities is laden with toxic compounds, and the health risks from breathing its polluted air and poisonous gases will have long-term effects for some people that have been exposed for several days.

This fire should have been elevated to a crisis level as soon as it was recognised and received the maximum response to end it in the shortest possible time. We should call on international assistance, whether donated or hired, as Jamaica does not have the capability to manage this level of fire. We should be utilising aircraft designed for major forest fires and other dangerous fires.

These firefighting aircraft are very effective and can take on water while flying or carry dry fire suppressants materials depending on the situation. In addition, evacuating citizens at greatest risk should be considered. One thing for certain, we will need to thoroughly evaluate our state of preparedness for all types of future disasters whether natural or man-made.

Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO, Jamaica Public Service Company Ltd

This disaster has provided an opportunity for us to really look at how we can improve risk management across the board - at the national, corporate, community, and individual levels. The situation is not new, and I believe the disruption that it has caused could have been averted.

If I were in a position to address the problem, my first move would be to ensure that there is permanent security in place at Riverton. It is clear from repeated experiences this location is a security risk, so it should be treated as such.

Secondly, I would proactively put in place a quick response strategy that can be seamlessly executed at the first sign of trouble. This could include: a smoke alert system (human or electronic) and a team of quick responders who can assess the risk and immediately decide on the course of action needed.

As we seek to increase fuel diversification in Jamaica, the Riverton City disposal site should be made an integral part of the country's strategy to implement a 'Waste-to-Energy' programme. I would make this a priority, in keeping with the National Energy Policy's plan to achieve fuel security through diversification.

Professor Nilza Justiz-Smith, dean, Faculty of Engineering & Computing

The repeated fires at the Riverton City disposal site are symptomatic of a larger issue in the management of the country's solid waste. Regrettably over the years, the focus has been on the end result (i.e. the fire at the dump), rather than moving Jamaica into a more effective solid-waste management pathway.

So while acknowledging the current crisis situation, and the importance of extinguishing the fire, the sustainable solution rests with effecting a holistic approach to the management of the country's waste from 'cradle to grave' of which the disposal site is one of several issues that need to be addressed.

Against this background, the most important step in addressing these issues is developing and implementing a solid-waste management plan for Jamaica. This plan will establish a strategy to collect, transport, recycle and dispose as well as monitor the waste generated from various anthropogenic activities.

It will also include waste diversion strategies to reduce the amount of waste we have to finally dispose. Starting by looking at best practices, from sorting waste based on organic, inorganic, or degradable or non-biodegradable, hazardous and non-hazardous and also the e-waste to be disposed.

To support these activities, the highest priority should be given to a comprehensive data collection on present and future waste supported by the appropriate policy framework, knowledge and capacity to develop the necessary plan and/or systems to select and implement the most "sound technologies".

Cost effective analysis should guide the selection of the most appropriate technology guided by a philosophy that 'waste is a resource out of place' that can create opportunities for solid waste as an alternative raw material for many industries providing the country with other avenues to grow its economy and create jobs.

Perhaps this unfortunate event can be used to examine the issue of effective solid-waste management for Jamaica, which is absolutely necessary for the country's development.

Dr Shane Alexis, President, Medical Association of Jamaica

The fire at the Riverton landfill is a public health hazard and a threat to the general environment. It is negatively affecting the health of thousands of persons and will have immeasurable future consequences on many more Jamaicans.

I would suggest that for the above reasons the operations of the landfill should receive direct ministerial oversight. I think that serious consideration for the direct intervention of the Jamaica Defence Force in the short term control and management of the site.The declining air quality and it's obvious health impact requires swift and decisive action. The future security of the sight should be entrusted to our national security agencies.

Sustained public education on proper and safe waste disposal as well as the danger of smoke to our health must be funded and implemented. All citizens need to be made more aware of the dangers of poor environmental practices.

The establishment of a multi-sectoral, joint private-public sector task force, with appropriate terms of reference to develop and implement an environmentally friendly, health sensitive and sustainable solution for waste disposal. The concurrent development of a business plan for the landfill, (recycling, bio fuels? etc) and it's submission to multilateral funders on the basis that a clean environment is a basic human right!