Editorial

The effects of making decisions in haste

Monday, April 22, 2019

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We understand Ms Fiona Facey's feelings regarding the value of bauxite-to-alumina processing as well as the negative effects for people living close to the JISCO Alpart refinery in Nain, St Elizabeth.

“Look here,” Ms Facey is reported to have said in response to a direct question, “nobody is calling for a shutdown of the company (JISCO Alpart), we are happy that a lot of young people are up and working, providing for their families. But [it] is one thing to provide for your family and then another thing, a few years down the line, you losing your family ... everybody dead!”

We can't say for sure if Ms Facey is stretching it a bit in suggesting that death can result from bauxite/alumina industry pollution.

Who knows?

What we do know is that such emissions have played havoc with the health of a large number of people around the alumina plant, especially those in whose direction the wind blows.

Neither is the problem new. Such environmental problems have haunted the bauxite industry — not only in St Elizabeth — since its inception more than 60 years ago.

At its root is the age-old contradiction between economic gain and protection of the natural environment as well as people's health.

In Jamaica's case the problem is exacerbated by the island's small size and dense population, which means people are invariably too close for comfort to areas where mining and alumina processing are taking place.

Ideally, as is the situation in large bauxite-producing countries such as Guyana, Australia and elsewhere, residential communities are far away from production zones.

And yet, surely, in today's world, it doesn't always have to be either, or.

Mr Phillip Paulwell, former Cabinet minister and current Opposition spokesman on mining, makes what seems to us to be the perfectly legitimate point, that with rapidly advancing technology it should be possible to exploit bauxite resources without endangering the surrounding population.

Mr Paulwell points us to the cement company in his Kingston Eastern and Port Royal constituency, where he says dust — once a major environmental problem — has been reduced to tolerable levels.

Perhaps the analogy isn't perfect, but we understand the point he is trying to make.

In such circumstances, then, we wonder if Mr Paulwell and others of similar influence may not have acted too hastily in facilitating the reopening of Alpart without ensuring necessary environmental safeguards.

True, there was powerful push for the employment and economic benefits that came with the plant's reopening. But, as it is, we are being told that the JISCO Alpart management is moving to implement modern methodologies to minimise the environmental headaches now being experienced.

Why, we have to ask, couldn't those measures have been insisted on and implemented from start-up in 2017?

Also, as we have said previously in this space, the extraordinarily long delay in implementing the Essex Valley Water Scheme — first conceptualised and launched close to two decades ago for the people in communities close to the Alpart plant — represents a classic case of disgraceful governance.

Now we are being told that, with water finally ready to be turned on, the people for whom the project was first designed could well be bypassed — at least in the immediate future.

That's a bitter pill to swallow for even the most reasonable people. Those in charge have some explaining to do.


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