Deal with MoBay smoke pollution before we have a fire on our handsWednesday, April 28, 2021
In well-organised societies, central and local governments, supported by their affiliated agencies and departments, combine to provide services that see to the comfort and well-being of citizens.
That reality seems to be lost on the individuals entrusted with governance and public service in St James, particularly Montego Bay, at least as it relates to their inaction and finger-pointing over the smoke pollution affecting that city in recent weeks.
Last Thursday, our sister publication Observer West reported on this problem, which none of the state's agencies or political representatives seem able to deal with.
For weeks this newspaper has been getting complaints from residents of Montego Bay about smoke that has been making life difficult; creating visibility problems and worsening respiratory illnesses among the population.
In response, the best that Councillor Leeroy Williams, chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation, could offer was that he hasn't heard of any fire at the Retirement dump — a regular source of smoke pollution. He had, however, heard that the country can expect clouds of Sahara dust and maybe ash from La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent.
Western Parks and Markets, which has responsibility for the Retirement dump, issued a news release saying that there was no fire or smoke at the waste disposal site. In fact, the last fire at the dump was on March 30, 2021.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in its response, told us that an investigation had revealed that the smoke is from bush fires in the Gordon Hill, Spring Mount area, south of John's Hall.
However, Mr Floyd McLean, the Jamaica Fire Brigade's assistant commissioner in charge of Area 4, said his agency had not received any reports of fire in John's Hall, or at the Retirement dump, or anywhere in that area recently. Therefore, he said he was “not sure what the citizens are talking about”.
Apparently, Mr McLean is not being affected by the smoke.
Then we have the political representatives, Mr Edmund Bartlett, the Member of Parliament for St James East Central, and Mrs Marlene Malahoo Forte, the attorney general and Member of Parliament for St James West Central.
Mr Bartlett pointed out that the municipal corporation, NEPA, and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) are the agencies that should give some account of what is happening.
That is true, but given that Mr Bartlett's constituents would likely be affected by this problem, we had expected a better response. Plus, the fact that he is also the minister of tourism should spur him to do more than simply point to the relevant authorities.
Mrs Malahoo Forte, to be fair, offered what seemed to be an attempt to right this wrong, saying that she has “been asked to represent the need for an enterprise committee to be established” as soon as possible “to look at a resolution within the next 12 months”, and that she has already spoken with the portfolio minister at Cabinet.
But 12 months, we submit, is too long, because if the smoke pollution continues people will become sick and could die. Add to that the fact that it has the potential to damage tourism, an industry that so many Jamaicans rely on for a living and which is already struggling to recover from COVID-19's devastating blow.
This problem demands urgent action, not talk.
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