I have settled on “Sunday Shuffle” now, finally – because this really describes how I work my way through the newspapers. All the sections get shuffled into each other – very annoying for my husband. I try to put them back together again, but somehow it never quite works. They remain in a disheveled state.
OK, let’s go.
This week’s Story to Ponder: The National Environment and Planning Agency – NEPA (yes, the E and P still sit uncomfortably together, in my mind) released a report on the conflagration that was the Riverton City dump fire (and let’s not call it a landfill, it’s not). The report stated baldly: “The data showed ambient air quality with respect to PM10 (particulate matter 10) within a one-kilometer radius of the site to be ‘very high risk,’ according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canadian Air Quality Index definitions.” The communities at very high risk were/are the very low income communities of Riverton Meadows (about as far from a meadow as I have ever seen), Seaview Gardens, Cooreville Gardens and a little beyond. Up to two kilometers from the flickering fires was just “high risk,” including Washington Gardens and Duhaney Park.
[Pause for thought: I always find it ironic that some of the most struggling, barren stretches of Kingston’s residential areas are all gardens and parks and meadows. I don’t want to offend anyone living in these communities, but the original planners and developers must have named these in a fit of extreme optimism, much like those pretty but unreal architectural drawings one sees with trees and flowerbeds and people sitting on charming park benches].
And over these communities hung, for at least a week in February, the pall of toxic chemicals from the Riverton City dump. The clouds of smoke were a murky grey-brown, tainted with chemicals pouring out from plastics, tires, dead animals, household garbage – you name it. Many residents suffered from asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. But my question is, what is still hanging in the air? And what are the “volatile organic compounds” and metals that may still be up there, or that may have descended on our homes, our earth, our water, our heads? This is just one report, but according to today’s Sunday Observer report by the excellent environmental journalist Petre Williams-Raynor, NEPA noted some fundamental and major deficiencies in the monitoring system – no permanent air quality monitoring stations; no sampling equipment; and no equipment for the testing of “additional pollutants” (these are the ones that worry me), such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
We have a Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Mr. Robert Pickersgill. He has been on a very fast learning curve since taking up office, poor man. He wants to do the right thing to make sure that this “never, ever happens again” (my quotation marks – but good heavens, it has already happened so many times before…) Basically, Minister Pickersgill needs money to fix the problem – but there is none. The previous administration decided not to fill in the land at a cost of some $35 million – money which would have been well spent, as it cost far more to put out the fire, and law suits are in the offing. Riverton City is, I repeat, not a landfill but a giant, open trash heap, scattered with bulldozers, scavenging Jamaicans, herds of cattle, pigs and goats (!) seagulls and rats and filth. Just festering, open to the sun and wind. No proper sorting or recycling goes on (please correct me if I am wrong on this, dear readers). So, it comes down to this – it’s not just about money. It’s about political will. It depends how high on the priority list the health of Kingston residents comes, in the eyes of the politicians. But what scares me is: How much damage has already been done? The Ministry of Health is also doing some studying, measuring etc. Will the public be informed, soon, on the results of these studies? And what about all the toxic materials that we don’t have any data on at all? I’m very nervous, and far from reassured.
On the topic of climate change, local environmentalists such as the Jamaica Environment Trust’s Diana McCaulay are not impressed by the government’s performance, despite Minister Pickersgill’s declaration that it is “a serious concern to our sustainable development.” But meanwhile, the University of the West Indies‘ new Faculty of Law has introduced an environmental law course as an elective for final-year students. As lecturer Laleta Davis-Mattis says, “There is a role for advocacy in environment.” Come on, young law students, give it some serious thought.
Why bother: The ongoing wrangling between the Jamaica Teachers Association and the Ministry of Education seems to be a spillover from the previous administration. The one-upmanship continues over the establishment of a Jamaica Teaching Council. Before that, other “controversial” issues were chewed over, put on one side and stuck on the underneath of school desks like old chewing gum – perhaps to be picked up and re-chewed at a later date. Ugh. Some lofty words are being spoken, as well as some rather confrontational ones. I sigh and wait for it to be sorted out. How is this all going to affect the quality of the education delivered to thousands of Jamaicans? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader, but do enlighten me, if you know.
Talking of schools, the new Anglican Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory (a clear-sighted man, I believe) is putting his foot down over state schools built on church-owned lands. “We would like to have more say in what happens in our schools,” says Bishop Gregory. Fair enough, I think. The leases are up on the nine secondary schools and 101 primary schools owned in some way by the Church but administered by the State, and the goodly Bishop has no wish to renew them. The matter is under discussion with Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites – a lay preacher himself. We’ll see.
Last week, the city of Kingston also acquired a new Mayor, its 53rd – Her Worship Councilor Angela Brown-Burke (why do we have to worship a mayor, by the way?) The hard-working councilor struggled laughingly into her ceremonial robes (that huge medallion reminds me of a rapper showing off his “bling,” and the hat is a trifle ridiculous) with the assistance of her two predecessors from the other side of the political fence, Desmond McKenzie and Lee Clarke. The ceremony in the Senate avoided the unpleasant partisanship of earlier mayoral installations (especially in Montego Bay and Portmore) – I was embarrassed for the departing mayors, who were booed by supporters of the People’s National Party, but managed awkward smiles. (They weren’t that bad, were they?)
Here’s a Quiz Question: Which Jamaican National Hero served as Mayor of Kingston?
And a question I couldn’t find the answer to: How many female Mayors (Mayoresses??) has Kingston had?
Commendations are also in order for…
The Observer newspaper’s “Moguls in the Making” – supporting young entrepreneurs finding their way through the hazardous landscape of the Jamaican business. I wish them determination, fortitude, and ultimately, huge success.
Ms. Megan Deane, the CEO of the first full-service credit bureau in Jamaica, Creditinfo Jamaica. Ms. Deane is a lady of solid credentials, a woman who more than holds her own in the (still largely) man’s world of finance. In the next six months we should see and hear more about the credit bureau’s products and services. Excellent and well-needed.
The Saturday Gleaner for its excellent “Rural Express” – a section I always read with great interest. The only part that worries me is (despite the delightful stories of quiet success) the underlying and persistent theme of rural decline and decay. More on that in another Shuffle.
To the families of Ms. Pauline Reid and Ms. Ruby Martin – two Jamaican women who contributed a great deal in their different fields of endeavor. Ms. Reid, the first female President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, died on Saturday in hospital in Washington, DC. Apart from her lobbying for the city’s Convention Centre and several other successful projects, she had a deep personal love for the town and for her country. Ms. Martin was dedicated to the Ward Theatre Foundation and struggled for many years to get financial (and political) support for its restoration. She also bravely confronted cancer in recent years, and died yesterday evening. Meanwhile, the Ward will be 100 years old this coming December, and is literally crumbling and unusable, as we speak. The area around it is filthy, greasy and broken. The least that could be done perhaps in Ms. Martin’s memory would be to make some attempt at restoring it before it becomes one of downtown Kingston’s (and Jamaica’s) many sad ruins.
A concern, and the Las’ Lick:
Could Ms. Lisa Hanna, Minister of Culture and her predecessor Ms. Olivia Grange stop sniping back and forth over the budget for Jamaica 50? Ms. Hanna (wearing a perhaps inappropriate transparent blouse) noted haughtily at a press briefing last week that the budget prepared by Ms. Grange was preposterously high and that she had scaled it right back (she had already told us all about this several weeks ago). Ms. Grange retorted testily that this was not a budget, just a plan, and that it would also have involved the private sector. The Auditor General is auditing, and Mr. Robert Bryan (I remember him, I think, from the overblown West Indies World Cup Cricket days – perhaps not very auspicious) has appeared, saying there is not enough time. Meanwhile, what gives? Where is the Jamaica 50 plan, and as columnist Tamara Scott-Williams notes today, can we please all just be allowed to enjoy ourselves this year, budget or no budget?
Cool it, ladies.
This is an important one, and a topic I will return to, but meanwhile please read and think about the relatively short but significant article by Byron Buckley in today’s Sunday Gleaner, headlined “Church Opposes Gay Stigma on HIV/AIDS Advocacy,” which refers to recent consultations between UNAIDS and Jamaican church leaders. The challenges are many.
That’s all for this week! Feedback, commentary, questions, corrections, enlightenment… all are welcome from you, dear readers.
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Pickersgill-wants-money_11225562 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/UWI-moves-to-cultivate-environmental-law-practitioners_11207932 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/-Green–lobbyists-unimpressed-by-Gov-t-efforts-on-climate-change_11217951 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Take-your-hands-off-schools–money_11189750 (Sunday Observer)
- Church opposes gay stigma on HIV/AIDS advocacy (Sunday Gleaner)
- Group Calls for Jamaica to Stop Open Trash Fires (abcnews.go.com)
- http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107362: Working to Cope with Climate Change, Jamaica Calculates Costs
- Sunday Second Thoughts (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Stroke Risks Increased By Air Pollution, Even A Moderate Amount (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Air Pollution Tied To Cognitive Decline, Stroke (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Strokes & Auto Exhaust (taintedair.wordpress.com)
- The Sunday Stumble – premiere edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Two-thirds of China’s cities fail on air standards (mysanantonio.com)