WE ARE ALL STANDING IN RIVERTON CITY

The video above was commissioned by the Jamaica Gleaner , capturing an ariel view of the environmental disaster, the Riverton City fire that occurred last week  and to date of writing this blog, still continues. For my overseas readers this drama is  unveiling in the capital city Kingston & St. Andrew and its environs, an urban metropolis of approx.1 million people.

Let me also give my readers another shocking news. Like the annual reggae festival SumFest in anther section of Jamaica, the Riverton City fire  s an annual event, where the exclusive performers are the Government, through some of its  ministries and agencies, the local City government and their agencies responsible  and the citizens of 3 parishes, Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine and  especially the children.

I can describe this performance in one word, calamity. When you read the emotions of the various word sounds of the responsible ‘managers, you cannot help but wonder  through  their calm and insensitive demeanor, what will it  take to ever get some display of genuine emotion and care when dealing with this national crisis?

How long you might ask has scene been occurring? A fellow blogger has gone back to as far as 2003, documenting every year the annual Riverton City spectacle, to the point  where the blog has asked their readers to meet again, same  time, same place for another sequel to the evolving soap opera.  The question is why is this disaster not solved? A friend has put this question even more succinctly:

….’why are the two major landfills in the country ablaze or smoking?
Is there a hidden benefit to anyone in all this?
What of the children who suffer with respiratory illnesses?…”

She hits the nail on the head. Is there a benefit to someone for the continued occurrence of this disaster? You  have to ask as for every negative there is a positive. Is someone, a company, a political party or an agency stand to gain from the burning of this toxic waste that has created a medical havoc on the already limited resources on the Health services?

The answer lies not in a lack of studies and data. From as early as 2003 there have been published studies done by local and foreign entities and think tanks.

1. Management of Hazardous & Solid Waste in Jamaica

2. National Program of Action (NPA) 2003

3. University of Michigan report on Solid Waste Management in Jamaica –

The IADB ( Inter American Development Bank) extended a loan to the central government at the time ( The PNP led by PJ Patterson) to do the following, which is edited below:

…”The Government of Jamaica, with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has developed a new SWM policy for the island….. into one centralized agency (NSWMA),…and strengthening of anti-litter and dumping laws. Technical changes include the development of 4-5 regional landfill sites and accompanying transfer stations, environmental closure of inactive dumpsites…. Central government has received an $11.5 million loan from the IDB for phase 1 implementation of the plan, which focuses mainly on landfill improvements in the Kingston Metropolitan Area…” (Taken from University of Michigan Study)

All these reports all point to one thing- Jamaica has a Waste Management Problem and here are the answers to solve them. This included the management of the Riverton City ‘landfill’ which was predicted by the researchers to reach its capacity by the year 2014. Yet nothing, if anything was done to remedy the problem. Riverton City is still being used to compound garbage after garbage, and with its vicinity so close to urbanized areas  it is only a disaster waiting to happen. The NSWMA agency is still underfunded neither does it  have the physical resources to adequately collect all the waste in the cooperate area,  In other words they are given basket to carry water.

…”The inadequacy of the fleet size is significant….. It is estimated that the Riverton Disposal site receives about 60.0 per cent of the solid waste generated which is about 2406.4 tonnes per day. Therefore, it requires approximately 150 trucks to adequately collect and dispose of solid waste within this waste shed. The MPM would need approximately 105 trucks to move domestic garbage within the KMA but currently the fleet size is 73..” (Management of Hazardous & Solid Waste in Jamaica)

From the recent developments one can easily assume that Governments after Governments have turned their heads looking away from the problem , hoping that it would go away. It didn’t. People are also predictable. The agencies will cover the wounds, apply a bandaid and leave it until  the next l disaster.  The problem continues.  Can I also ask this question: Where do they dispose of the  hazardous wastes from the hospitals? Is Riverton City the dump where these waste go?

An expert who worked with the government at the time of the many discussions on Riverton City dump when consulted, had this to say:

...”The government agencies have known for several decades that the dump must be closed.  While I was in the government, there was an effort (once, can’t remember year) to develop a comprehensive solid waste management strategy for the country.  Factors considered include: protection of critical environmental resources, such as aquifers; location away from population centers; location and types of sorting centers, to support recycling and reuse for things such as composting; treatment of hazardous wastes, such as hospital waste; transportation system, including the use of rail; regional management networks; etc.).  I don’t think the process was completed, but I am fairly sure that the process identified the locations of suitable sites for new landfills.  So, even if the rest of a “comprehensive system” was not designed, the government should still have been able to establish some of the new landfills….”

The government , neither the previous one, clearly hasn’t. Our world, our environment in Jamaica is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.

Possible Solutions

The talk of divesting the dump, as it is no landfill, is the Opposition’s remedy to the problem. as in their estimation  government does not have the financial resources to manage SMW. That may be so, especially as all evidence supports that, but what government has are powers to allow any foreign or local  investor to  operate in an economic environment that allows the cost factor to  be at a minimum to make the investment profitable. That may be subsidies granted  including  the importation of waste from nearby islands.

Another option for the government is to compact the waste and export to countries that buys it as raw material. Again the economics of this has to be analyzed.  And yet another option is to borrow the finance  and implement its own recycling project, producing energy as well as recycled materials for use in our every day lifestyle. Recycling provides jobs, it stimulates the economy, it reduces the emissions and prevents global warming, It is creating a new industry of sorts, one that will undoubtedly be one of the spring boards to Jamaica in its 2030 plans.

RIVERTONCITY I am no expert in solving this problem. What i am is a concerned citizen that only uses practical solutions for problems.  The present attitude that exist at the NSWMA agency , of throwing their hands in the air and blaming everybody but God , is not solving the problem. It begins with educating  our citizens on the benefits of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, We are a wasteful nation, and a dirty nation , creating our own toxic waste. Riverton City debacle should not be so surprising.

The question is still unanswered. Is there a benefit for someone or something to gain? The relationship between the environment, resources and conflict is like the connection we see today between political parties,human rights and peace. Never the two shall meet. It is not in our political parties best interest if the people become united and start judging them and making them accountable. What we have now are gratuitous pardons of disasters all in the name of party politics. Our people are so politically divided that solving this problem will become a political issue and not a environmental or human one  And yet the people cannot breathe!

The answer is sadly yes. It is  keeping the body politic, the impervious status quo. The status quo is what governs our country from 1962, heightened in the 70s by scandal and violence and continued to this day with sculduggery, nepotism and unaccountability. The status quo is  treating this matter with impunity and scant disregard for public health and no environmental concerns. The status quo is accepting the mediocrity of standards, and blaming this on lack of resources. The status quo is what allows the managers to leave established standards, data and analysis and continue to dump garbage upon garbage, hoping that the coming eruption will only require them to send fire engines to out the fire. It is the status quo that tells our children and our people not to worry, just put wet cloth over your nose and everything  will be ok.  The government, as like the previous government, accept the status quo as the operating principle and is frankly on a death march.

 We are all standing in the Riverton City dump, but only a few of us are looking up towards the stars.