City battles fire at Mandela dump site
Neighbouring areas enveloped in smoke
By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
December 3, 2002

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City authorities aided by the Guyana Fire Service were last night battling a smouldering blaze at the Mandela Landfill Site which had surrounding neighbourhoods shrouded in foul black smoke.

The task of extinguishing the fire, which erupted sometime on Saturday, was being handled by the GFS while the Mayor and City Council's mechanical and engineering departments have deployed their excavation equipment to contain the fire within the dump-site.

A portion of the site has also been flooded and it is hoped that within 24 hours the fire would be brought under control. The choking smoke has severely affected the residents of Princes and Norton streets, Lodge and the North East La Penitence areas. Residents in Meadowbrook have also been affected by the blaze.

At a press conference yesterday Mayor Hamilton Green said there were two versions as to how the fire began. He said reports were that a man was trying to smoke out a marabunta (wasp) nest at the western end of the fence of the National Gymnasium and that the fire spilled over to the landfill site.

When Stabroek News visited the area yesterday a resident pointed to a palm tree where the marabunta nests were located and he said the person had accidentally ignited methane gas under the garbage.

Green also said that another report was that workers were using a welding machine at the gymnasium and the sparks had flown into the dumpsite. But workers at the gymnasium told Stabroek News that they had not done any welding there over the past fortnight.

Several residents in the affected areas said children were complaining of nausea. The older folks were braving the ordeal but were concerned about the situation noting that a solution to the problem of the landfill site had to be found quickly. They noted that when the rain falls, swarms of flies infest their homes.

Green told reporters that because of the severity of the blaze the Guyana Fire Service fire-fighting equipment might not be sufficient and could actually cause it to spread more rapidly. Therefore, at a meeting held yesterday morning it was agreed that the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) would make available three four-inch pumps to the City Council.

Green said the meeting, convened under the auspices of the Office of the President yesterday, discussed the options of using foam or dumping sand from a helicopter.

The pumps were to be used to obtain water from the trench parallel to the site, west of the gymnasium and Princes Street. Green said that he expects that the water from these areas, particularly the Water/Princes Streets area where a reservoir was to be created, would be sufficient to quell the flames.

He said he had never seen so much fire on the landfill site as on Saturday. At that time he had visited the affected areas and listened to angry residents. He noted that in spite of the problem with the landfill site the M&CC has not been getting any assistance from central government in dealing with the problem.

He argued that in recent years there has been a buildup of garbage, more so with the use of plastics instead of glass and the increased use of used tyres. He also said more than half of the garbage came from out of the city. He pointed out that in monitoring the arrival of garbage trucks one day, of 15 trucks examined, only seven were from the city.

He contended that some 250 tonnes of waste is dumped every day on a site that has almost no safety features. Fires could ignite at any time and last for days on end. Several years ago, one lasted for several days and threatened to get out of control. Methane gas has been slowly building up from decomposition which was what Green said caused Saturday's fire to rapidly ignite.

The landfill site has long been considered a danger and exactly one year ago, the Sunday Stabroek, in an extensive feature warned that the site, located in the heart of the city was an environmental disaster waiting to happen with explosive methane gases accumulating under its surface.

The Sunday Stabroek feature had noted that the Government of Guyana/Inter-American Development Bank site rehabilitation and public awareness project had been delayed by a series of administrative blunders.

But yesterday Green said the government had fast-tracked the tendering process and the US$200,000 contract for the awareness programme was due to be awarded today while the tender for the engineering consultancy, to advise on a five-acre extension west of the current landfill site, has been concluded. It is expected that the consultancy will go to engineer Charles Ceres.

Once these projects come on stream, Green said some 50 scavengers, who earn their living from the dump site would be registered and be made to wear uniforms. In addition the site would be fenced and properly covered.

Green could not say when the new dump site to be located at Eccles, was likely to come on stream. He noted that first the land has to become transported property of the M&CC. The land is currently owned by GUYSUCO and Green blamed the delay on bureaucracy.

The awareness project had been due to start since September of 2001. The project had been given the go-ahead since May 2000. It had been reported by the Sunday Stabroek that the sole tender for the project had been misplaced and the bidder had not been notified of its disappearance.

Observers note that a suitable landfill site will always be a problem for the city of Georgetown. Regular landfill sites normally go to a depth of about 40 feet but because of the water table along the coast a site in the city could only go to a depth of 20 feet. The Mandela landfill site is now some 20 feet above ground level.

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