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UN environment congress opens in Jamaica amid Riverton blaze fallout

Published:Monday | March 30, 2015 | 8:12 AM
In this file photo a pedal cyclist wears a dust mask for protection against the smoke emanating from the fire at the Riverton City disposal site.

A United Nations congress on environmental law opens today in Jamaica, almost three weeks after a fire at a dump in St Andrew triggered a national environmental emergency.

The two-day event, the Inter American Congress on Environmental Rule of Law, is being held at the Secrets Resorts & Spas in St James.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will deliver the main address at about nine o’clock this morning.


Jovan Johnson reports

The congress falls under the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

That division is charged with carrying out the functions of UNEP that involve the development and facilitation of international environmental law, governance and policy.

Jamaica's Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Robert Pickersgill along with local and international civil society groups and individuals are expected to make presentations at the event.

The congress comes as Jamaica battles one of its most urgent environmental emergencies in years.

The fire at the Riverton City dump has produced smoke which covered large sections of the Corporate Area and St Catherine, forcing hundreds to seek medical attention. 

Schools and commercial activities have also been disrupted. 

The authorities disclosed last week, that Jamaica is now facing a "significant public health issue" as a result of air quality tests which show high levels of hazardous substances including, cancer-causing benzene.

The Office of the Public Defender and environmental lobby groups have threatened court action, alleging government breached  constitutional rights to a healthy environment.