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Commonwealth initiative puts Riverton woes in global spotlight - JET hopes int’l exposure will trigger more urgent action on divestment

Published:Thursday | March 7, 2019 | 12:13 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Suzanne Stanley
Suzanne Stanley

Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) CEO Suzanne Stanley is hoping that the recent international spotlighting of the health impact of fires at the Riverton City landfill will nudge the Government to move faster with its divestment plans.

The issue was last week featured in a new podcast series, Commonwealth Voices, which has been commissioned and produced by the Commonwealth Foundation to highlight issues in Commonwealth countries surrounding democracy and impacting the institutions that shape citizens’ lives.

In the case of JET and Jamaica, the focus was on achieving cleaner, air and water for all its citizens, and the island’s largest dump was brought into focus.

“This certainly has an international reach. We are featured in the first episode of the series,” Stanley told The Gleaner yesterday.

“It is embarrassing that the (Riverton dump) problem has persisted over so many years. Decades upon decades, JET has advocated on the issue.

It is disappointing that the problem persists and we hope the fact it has been highlighted on the international stage, that this will inspire more urgent action.”

Over the years, there have been a number of unhealthy fires at the Riverton City landfill, which officials blamed on arsonists. The lack of security and the ease of accessing the site as well as improper disposal of combustible material have also been blamed for the fires, which, at times, result in a thick layer of smoke blanketing sections of the Corporate Area and St Catherine for several days.

Need for action

Stanley recalled that on December 31 last year, a press conference was called at the Office of the Prime Minister, where a pledge was made to wind down the operations at Riverton by the end of this year. She is hoping that it is not another up-in-the-air announcement as the environment advocate is still getting calls from citizens about the impact of air-quality issues on their health.

“There was a timeline that was set, which was the end of 2019, but I would like to see that timeline moved up. It should be an urgent priority to address the issues. We would love an update on how the windingdown process is going because we are still getting complaints. Up to Tuesday, I got a call from a concerned citizen saying whenever he and his daughter traverse Spanish Town Road, they have to wind up their windows.

“He said she has asthma and the air quality in the area affects her breathing. The effect is no secret. I want to see this new highlighting of the issue on the international stage generate some urgent action.

There have been a lot of talk and rhetoric about plans and transitioning away. It needs to be more than a plan now. Kingston is suffering,” she declared.

Th Commonwealth Foundation gave JET just under $10 million to carry out advocacy and other impactful work over a two-year period, which ended last September.

In the 30-minute podcast, which can be accessed at play.acast.com/s/commonwealthvoices/jamaicansforcleanairandwater, citizens can be heard bemoaning how badly affected their lives are whether or not there is a massive fire at the dump.