flood-damaged solid waste from the districts is more than a matter of picking
up what residents place on the streets. The first step at the community
level is to ensure residents remove all such materials from their homes
and yards. A measure of community mobilizing is essential to remind residents
of the danger of keeping contaminated materials lying around premises and
to urge them to get it all out. This operation needs to be harmonized with
availability of removal trucks and other equipment such as back-hoes, The
same applies to contaminated goods in public places – schools, health
centres, community halls and markets.
As demonstrated in the Plaisance-Industry area and elsewhere, effective
community mobilizing produces huge volumes of solid waste. Part of citizens’
frustration is that the official response to date has been to have contractors
patrol the two major highways, which is limited to collecting waste which
can be brought there. The new emergency response has trucks entering villages
but pays no attention to synchronizing their visits with clean-up efforts
in the community. Having trucks drift around the East Coast without a
schedule known to communities is a waste of time and money.
Slavish adoption of proposals mooted by the President or other politicians
by the agencies involved, without pointing out relevant technical considerations
is irresponsible. The proposal to create one acre plots in each NDC for
garbage disposal dumps to dispose of contaminated flood-damaged waste
is one such instance. Technical personnel in the Ministry of Local Government,
the CDC and technical agencies – both local and inter-governmental,
as well as waste disposal contractors - are aware that the term ‘dumps’
with all its connotations of unregulated, careless ‘just get rid
of it’ approaches to waste is obsolete and a major contributor to
the repulsive pre-flood garbage-choked environment of the East Coast.
The Director of Solid Waste management of the Georgetown M&CC has
stated repeatedly throughout this crisis that the only safe place to dispose
of flood damaged waste – despite all its problems - is the Mandela
Landfill Site. Why are East Coast communities being exposed to long-term
environmental health hazards to ensure the appearance of a clean-up ?
The emergency clean-up campaign is to be conducted through the NDCs.
While the GCI believes involvement of the NDCs in the post-flood relief
response will contribute to rehabilitating them, there is no evidence
they have the capacity to address emergencies. If this were the case,
why have they been so marginal to all phases of the relief effort to date.
An important distinction should be made between encouraging community
involvement and having NDCs direct it. Apart from the negative attitudes
to these undemocratic bodies – which range from disdain to downright
hostility, as witnessed by the President himself in Foulis – they
presently lack the capacity to play the lead role in an emergency clean-up.
The GCI believes an opportunity is being lost to empower communities
to undertake an effective clean-up operation, thereby laying the foundation
for introducing more sustainable systems of sanitation in the future.
All phases of health and sanitation need to be addressed according to
clear and well-established standards of public health, sanitation and
the environment. It is not only a question of removing eyesores.
The opportunity lies in several factors. The flood brought home in a
new way health concerns related to garbage, blocked drains and contaminated
goods. Donor agencies are on the ground and willing to support community-led
clean-up efforts. Most importantly, communities are willing to be mobilized
to get rid of flood-damaged goods. All of this provides excellent preparation
for creating new, higher environmental standards. Placed in this context,
we are addressing one problem in several phases – clean houses and
yards, remove flood-spoiled goods from the districts and introduce new
systems of solid waste management.
The CDC response to an appeal for such an approach was that we are involved
with an emergency, sustainable systems will have to wait. This short-sighted
approach contributes nothing either to an effective and thorough cleansing
of communities at present, nor to their future welfare. Come April-May
with a distinct possibility of more floods, we face a repetition of encountering
drains chocked with domestic garbage, dysfunctional NDCs and the addition
of local dump sites to be re-dispersed over the communities.
February 25 2005