Riverton fires: Shame and solution

Wednesday, April 30, 2014    

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IN well-ordered societies, the individuals running agencies that have responsibility for facilities such as the Riverton dump would have already been cashiered and replaced by a government serious about protecting its citizens and maintaining professional standards in the public service.

In well-ordered societies, the government minister with portfolio responsibility for a facility such as the Riverton dump would have already been told to resign — or would, by now, have done so voluntarily — fully accepting that he/she had failed to protect citizens from harm in the aftermath of a disaster, such as that at Riverton.

But this is Jamaica, where the ideal of taking responsibility for actions and outcomes is not the norm. Therefore, unlike the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), we are not alarmed by the inability of the authorities to "swiftly" extinguish the latest fire at the Riverton City dump.

We must admit, though, that we are a bit surprised by Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson's silence on the matter, given his record of confronting difficult issues head-on.

The fact, though, that Minister Ferguson, as well as the chief medical officer and the Central Board of Health have been silent in the face of what certainly is an environmental disaster suggests that the State has little regard for the health risk posed by smoke from Riverton to so many Jamaicans living in the capital city and sections of nearby Portmore.

On Monday, JET told the country that it is still receiving daily complaints from the public and pleas for help.

"We have been told of an increased use of health facilities, people being unable to sleep or enjoy their property, even while indoors, and complaints being received from ships coming into Kingston... affected by poor visibility caused by the smoke," JET said in a news release.

We share JET's concern that there are no daily public advisories on air-quality testing as smoke from Riverton continues to blanket the city, exacerbating respiratory problems for some people. That, simply, is unacceptable.

Just as objectionable is the fact, highlighted by JET, that the National Environment and Planning Agency's enforcement order, in relation to the current fire, has been ignored and no one is held accountable.

The minister of environment and climate change is obviously sleeping while the dump burns and people become ill.

Which brings us to the point of the fires.

It is an open secret that they are, in most instances, set by individuals who invariably are "contracted" to put the flames out.

Whenever they wish to "eat a food" they simply set the dump alight with no regard for the health and environmental consequences of their action.

They also simply don't care that it is the taxpayers who are forced to fork out the millions of dollars paid to them each time they are "contracted" to extinguish the fires.

What is amazing is that successive governments continue to feed this obvious extortion.

If, however, the Government wants to divest us of this view, here's a suggestion: The next time there is a need to put out a fire at the dump, utilise the Jamaica Defence Force, which has the heavy-duty equipment required for that kind of operation.

That will cost the country far less than what it now pays to deal with that issue and, we believe, would end the problem when the arsonists realise that they will not be paid.





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