There is a serious crisis brewing in Guyana. It is of a public health nature.
This past week there was a mini scare when there were reports about the city’s municipality having cash flow problems, thereby delaying payments to its workers. There were concerns also that garbage collectors would be forced to once again withdraw their services.
Fortunately this did not materialize and garbage collection has continued. Had there been a withdrawal of refuse collection, the city would have once again have been plunged into a serious crisis, one that would have had far more dangerous consequences because of the fact that we are in transition to the rainy season and therefore at a greater risk for the outbreak of an epidemic relating to public health concerns.
But while there are complaints about the state of public health within the capital, no one seems to be addressing the fact that refuse disposal and the establishment of dump sites are absent from most areas in the countryside.
Most residents in those areas are forced to bury their non- degradable garbage. The practice has been to dig and pit behind the household or kitchen garden and dump the garbage within it. But most often the garbage is burnt, producing greenhouse emissions which not only pollute the atmosphere but also can poison the lungs of those who inhale these fumes.
With more and more rural households enjoying a higher standard of living and with more garbage being produced because of the wider availability of packaged goods, the quantity of refuse in rural households has increased tremendously. In addition, there is no dump site in which to discard things such as rotten wood, builders waste and unwanted household items.
In some communities these items are simply disposed of by hurling them over the seawall into the Atlantic. But in others, they are taken by truck or by hand and dumped into any open space, usually away from where persons live. In other cases they are simply dumped into canals and drains thus posing a health risk.
There is a tremendous accumulation of garbage throughout the country. Most NDCs lack the financial ability to undertake regular refuse collection.
Rates and taxes in almost every instance is pitifully low and thus there is a need for a direct tax devoted to garbage collection.
The answer to this problem of refuse collection is not for greater public education. People will continue to indiscriminately dump items out of moving vehicles or simply throw their items in any open place so long as they can get away with it. Since it is difficult to police littering, the better solution is for the various councils and NDCs to be able to dispose of their communities’ garbage in safe manner.
Eventually when people have to pay a economic cost of the service provided the will be less inclined to indiscriminately dump garbage. Communities will be cleaner and public health will be improved.
For now though there is a build- up of garbage throughout the countryside and unless steps are taken to provide the necessary services, the pollution will continue and we will begin to lose all credibility whenever we speak about contributing to improving the environment.
All hope is however not lost. There are things which are being done to help improve the drainage in many communities. Community Improvement Groups are being deployed in many communities to help spruce up the areas and also to improve drainage.
While in many instances less staff can be used, it is a good beginning if the environmental issues confronting communities are to be addressed.
Every community in Guyana should have permanent community workers dedicated to keeping their areas free of litter and their drains and canals free of weeds and garbage. Sustaining these services will require money and central government cannot be expected to carry out these tasks which should ideally be managed by the respective NDCs.
However, the NDCs are cash-strapped. This is the reason why there is a need for the political discussions on local government reform to take place immediately.
Unless this is done, and an agreement reached on ways to improve the financial status of the various local government bodies, then not only will local government elections be a farce but also the garbage will continue to pile up, the garbage bon fires will burn and the local environment will become more polluted and a threat to human existence.
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