PHILIPSBURG–“I would start coughing and then I can’t breathe. … It affects my asthma,” said thirteen-year-old Sara Bharwani of the always-smouldering and smoking dump looming over St. Maarten’s capital Philipsburg.
Hers is just one story of many told by St. Maarten’s residents who have to live with the choking and hazardous effects of the constantly-flaring-up dump.
Sara’s story is no different from that of many others of the country’s children and adults suffering from the thick smoke billowing up for the dump and clouding neighbourhoods. She has missed more than two weeks of school combined over the course of 2018, giving her the addition stress of catching up with schoolwork.
Her challenge to breathe fired in her the need to act. Sara has rallied fellow teens to speak out about the dump and the problems it is causing. The movement has spawned an online survey to gauge the effects of the dump fires. The group has even ventured on the dump itself to talk to people who live there about their survival.
Resident Barbara Cannegieter is also affected by the smoke. She, like Sara, has channelled her rage about the lack of a proper and permanent solution to “Mount Dump” into a court case. Her advocacy has led to a court decision pushing government to move faster and in a more structured way to end this health and environmental hazard.
For the first time in recent years, one issue – the smoking dump – has galvanised St. Maarteners and mobilised many to take their own action to affect change.
The dump has touched every facet of society and has engaged the “trias politica.”
Parliament has had meetings about the dump.
Government, at every opportunity, has expressed its concern and commitment to fixing the dump.
The court has had its say in the dump saga, as has another link in the justice chain – the Prosecutor’s Office. The latter, in recent weeks, has raided several offices of companies attached to the management of the dump. The fallout of this is still not fully known.
Yet, none of those entities have yet been able to bring about the one thing St. Maarteners for which are screaming, from the grassroots to the hilltops: an end to the smoke and constant fires.
There have been some tiny sparks of hope. Government has gotten funding from the World Bank for a massive multi-million-dollar fire suppression project. This Dutch government-financed project will not end the dump crisis. It will merely stop the fires if successful. The smoke will die away and the Fire Department will have a needed respite from its constant battle with angry orange infernos.
When the fires are out, the dump will continue to reach for the sky one straw, one car battery, one plastic bottle and one Styrofoam box piled on each other 100 times over. To remedy this, a decision on a permanent yet environmentally-friendly solution to the country’s solid waste management issue has to be found.
Governments – past and present – have made several attempts to reach for a solution from past memorandums of understanding with overseas companies, public calls for tenders and the receipt of stacks and stacks of proposals from companies with their brands of panacea for the “smoking choker.” All of that said, a decision is still far off.
Government, via Minister of Environment and Infrastructure Miklos Giterson, has indicated a solution cannot be arrived at without first gathering data, and efforts are now on the way to do so. Data are a scarce commodity although the dump has been a sleeping dragon for more than three decades. It is now awake with its raging flaming breath and has its hurricane-birthed child – the “Irma Dump” – also belching up blazing fires.
This year has seen the worst yet of the dump saga – from evacuations and a shutdown of government, schools and businesses due to treacle-like smoke in early February. It saw residents sitting on their front porches in thin, barely protective masks while others were cloistered in their homes from the smoky blanket over neighbourhoods surrounding the dump and as far away as Simpson Bay and Cole Bay.
Fixing the “cancer” that is the dump, as Member of Parliament Dr. Luc Mercelina described it, is as crucial as breathing is to life. Many St. Maarteners are living with the daily threat to their health and some are not even yet aware of how their health has been affected by this fire-and-smoke-breathing dragon.
Much focus has been placed over the years on what visitors to this tourism-driven country experience, and the threat the dump fires pose to the cruise industry in particular. This year, 2018, has seen a massive shift of attention to the people who are most affected – St. Maarten residents. They took a stand against this burning subject and have made it the most pressing issue of the year.
However, this is an issue that will continue burning into the New Year and beyond if the current momentum stays at the pace of trickling molasses.
Bron: Daily Herald