Getting a handle on garbage

Stabroek News
January 13, 2016

Whatever it takes, the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown, under its present configuration and when it takes its new form after local government elections, must make safe disposal of garbage a priority. This is a situation that has plagued this city for decades under the present council. The struggles have been well documented.

Not so long ago, we were constantly publishing photos and stories of the careless dumping of refuse at points in the city. Not so long ago, the city stank. The impact of the indiscriminate disposal of garbage on the aesthetics of Georgetown and the effects it has had on residents' health, well-being and finances should be a situation to be avoided at all costs from here on.

Not only was the city ugly and dirty, but it was also prone to easy and prolonged flooding even in the lightest of rainfalls. The concomitant influx of flies, mosquitoes, rats and roaches would have had an impact on the health of children in particular, with an increase in respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases, which at least one local doctor had warned about in interviews and letters to the editor.

Prior to this, and while the city's refuse was still being disposed of at Le Repentir landfill, there were similar issues that possibly were a bit worse. There was a period of about five years when Le Repentir landfill was being used despite its useful life having ended. The garbage overflowed into the cemetery and in some cases was dumped there. The landfill had ongoing fires which polluted areas for miles around and wreaked havoc with the respiratory systems of the very young and very old.

There were constant strikes by the garbage disposal providers owing to non-payment by the cash-strapped municipality, which added to the stink all around the city as residents' bins constantly overflowed. Those who could not wait for the strikes to end, either dumped their refuse at any convenient street corner or burned it in their backyards adding to the pollution.

The opening of the Haags Bosch landfill at Eccles was going to be the answer to the prayers of the residents plagued by the overuse of Le Repentir landfill; or at least this is what was touted. However, almost from the inception it was clear that there were going to be issues. Disposal companies complained about the distance, travelling along an often traffic-clogged East Bank Demerara road and the short opening hours of the landfill. These combined with ongoing problems at City Hall meant that getting rid of garbage, which should be a relatively uncomplicated operation, was often the entire focus of a statutory meeting of the city council. As ludicrous as it seems this was indeed a fact, especially since as recently as early last year, the city's finances remained meagre.

It was therefore a relief when around mid last year things began to change with regard to refuse disposal and there was, by mid-September, a huge improvement in the way garbage was disposed of and the way the city looked. Not only was the rubbish being removed, but other areas of neglect started to receive attention – like the drainage, urban monuments, trees and avenues, as well as the mandatory and insufferable parallel parking (being enforced by the Guyana Police Force Traffic Department).

Imagine the collective shock therefore when towards the end of the year and in the wake of a fire at Haags Bosch landfill, some genius in City Hall gave permission for temporary dumping at Le Repentir. Since that site had already been used way beyond its capacity, rubbish was being offloaded in the vicinity of tombs and graves, and the ubiquitous waste pickers were actually using said tombs to sort their 'treasures'. Fortunately, with the publication of this awful state of affairs, sanity prevailed and the abuse quickly ended. However, issues still remain with Haags Bosch and unless these are addressed quickly and decisively, managing it could continue to be extremely problematic.

Ideally however, there should be an alternative disposal site for the city. In addition, there should be disposal sites in the various villages so that not all of the coastal garbage is taken to Haags Bosch. It was not meant to be used in that way and will be of little use to all if it is continually abused in this manner. Whoever plans to run the city come March, should have clear plans to deal with this issue. It is certainly among the most problematic and needs to be dealt with effectively.