Pollution challenge - Lack of funds, weak legislation hampering foul air fight, says Vaz
The Government is looking for international help to tackle the pollution crisis facing sections of Jamaica, even as it vows that efforts will be made to enhance the monitoring of air quality across the island.
Following last week's exposÈ by The Sunday Gleaner on the foul air that Jamaicans in many parts of the island are breathing, the opposition People's National Party charged that the Andrew Holness administration was not doing enough to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework to reduce air pollution in Jamaica.
"It is no secret that the Government needs to allocate more funds to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement capability of the Ministry of Health, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA).
"Additional equipment is required to monitor air quality in Portmore, along Spanish Town Road and other parts of Kingston. (The State) also needs to enforce the Public Health Nuisance Regulations and the National Solid Waste Management Act to ensure that garbage is not burnt in backyards and at illegal dumps.
"These must also be bolstered by strict enforcement and adherence to the rules and regulations now in effect," argued the PNP spokespersons for local government and environment last week.
While admitting that the air-quality issue was a major problem, minister with responsibility for land, environment and climate change, Daryl Vaz, said the administration is treating the problem with the seriousness it deserves.
"I have taken note of the publications in the newspapers on this matter of air quality and I have been advised by the CEO of NEPA that we have a number of challenges in some specific sections of the Corporate Area and some selected urban centres in Jamaica," Vaz told The Sunday Gleaner.
"I have been briefed that there is an illegal solid waste issue, and that burning also creates, and adds to, the major challenge that we have," added Vaz.
Limited resources major obstacle
According to Vaz, while the administration recognises the need to do more to develop on the air-quality programme which was started in 2010, limited resources have been a major obstacle.
"It is a matter that will require some discussion with the Ministry of Finance to provide the funding for NEPA to expand the programme and expand the testing for pollutants," said Vaz.
"We know that resources are limited and so NEPA has asked the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for assistance with capacity building and institutional strengthening of Jamaica's air-quality programme.
"PAHO responded to say that its biennial budget was already cast and it will not be able to assist but is willing to look at it in the next biennium," added Vaz.
He said the Government was also pursuing the Mexico-Germany Triangular Corporation Project on reduction of atmospheric pollution for Latin America and the Caribbean.
"It is a possible opening for Jamaica to receive some funding. The project proposal was submitted and the Government still awaits a response," said Vaz.
He argued that despite the limited resources, progress has been made, especially as it relates to regulating industrial emissions.
"This has been achieved using a polluter pay principle, where the 44 licensed emitters across the island are required to pay the environmental agency based on how much they emit. So if you look around at the major emitters, there is a drastic reduction in what is being pushed out into the atmosphere."
With the environment and climate change among a long list of responsibilities he has been assigned as minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Vaz said the issue of illegal fires across the country is one area of special concern.
"There are hundreds of fires around the country each day, and it is going to be extremely difficult to have a policing mechanism to deal with these matters. It requires public education and a change in the way people think," said Vaz, as he admitted that there was need for an improved garbage-collection system to reduce persons' inclination to burn their waste.
Motor vehicle emission law coming
According to minister with responsibility for the environment, Daryl Vaz, while efforts to tackle operators of motor vehicles which emit thick black smoke on the roads have been stymied by the absence of legislation, this could soon change.
"A clause will be included in the new Road Traffic Act now being debated, which will allow for the making of regulations, and tailpipe emission testing will become an integral part of the motor vehicle fitness certification," said Vaz.
"The Government is also looking at a comprehensive emission policy that will include motor vehicles, aircraft and seagoing vessels," added Vaz.
Air-quality tests taking place in Portmore, says NEPA
CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency, Peter Knight, has clarified reports that there is no facility in Portmore, St Catherine, to measure the amount of fine particles produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes (PM 2.5) in the air.
According to Knight, contrary to what he had stated in a previous interview, there is a PM 2.5 station in Portmore.