Riverton keeps burning

Photo courtesy of Jamaica Observer

Photo courtesy of Jamaica Observer

The fire continues to burn. On Saturday, I thought it had all cleared out, because the sky was clear and blue and the air smelled normal. Not so fast. It fell on the city yesterday afternoon like a blanket. The stench was overwhelming and my eyes burned again. It seemed to even curl itself into my apartment.

I heard one official say it could burn for TWO MORE WEEKS. They now have about 40 “tipper trucks” and 21 firefighters (doesn’t that seem like a small number to fight such a large acreage?) on site, but they are asking the private sector to donate heavy equipment. We had an update from the Prime Minister’s Office, as well, but that did not answer many questions regarding public health. People are being told to “take precautions,” but beyond common sense, what does this mean? Of course, do not venture outside if you don’t have to (what about people who have to work outside? What about those too poor to move away from the immediate vicinity?) But what about asthmatics, the elderly, children, pregnant women? We are being told those individuals are more at risk, but how? What can they do to protect themselves? Apparently, masks do not work so well.

The fallout is being felt in many ways across the city. High school students were about to undergo major exams (GSATs), but those are now uncertain. Clinics are extending hours to treat those experiencing respiratory (and other) difficulties. Two busloads of children were sent to the hospital on Friday. I heard that over the weekend, 642 people were treated for various ailments related to the fire. At least 50 schools have been closed (and some nearby businesses)- think about that- the traffic as the parents were forced to leave work to pick up their children on Friday, and now those who must either pay for childcare or stay home from work today. And a major road race was cancelled over the weekend because of air quality.

This fire creates a massive ripple effect, and it is not the first time. Here is a comprehensive column from Miss Jean Cowrie-Chin on this ongoing issue. But it seems that this is the TWELFTH reported fire over the past decade. In fact, a fire was burning there one year ago today, and legal action is pending over the regulatory body (the National Solid Waste Management Authority) for a 2012 fire.

Presumably, the lawsuit will address the question of how this keeps happening. Indeed, how does it? How are the fires actually started? Most people assume they are set on fire to create more room for the never-ending garbage flowing from Kingston (I can’t remember where I saw this, but about 80,000 tonnes per year, by one estimate). What are the immediate and long term effects on one’s health? What is the government’s responsibility to its citizens? Especially those who live right near the dump and cannot afford to move anywhere else? Is the garbage separated properly? Who guards the site? What is the long term strategy for addressing waste?

An update from Director General Clive Davis yesterday indicated “significant containment” of the fire. However, there is still no timeline as to when it will be eradicated. I will leave you with his words:

“We understand the grave inconvenience…the disruption of lives and livelihoods. I want to reassure you, however, that the men and women of the Jamaica Fire Brigade and our public and private sector partners continue to work assiduously to bring a halt to this situation,” he stated.

One thought on “Riverton keeps burning

  1. I heard them say it should now be extinguished by the weekend (March 21/22). All the questions you ask are important! And I heard dust masks don’t give much protection. Kate, this has been happening basically every year for at least the last ten years! Each time promises are made, and nothing happens. This time has got to be different…

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