Jamaican babies are being dealt a sad hand.

Jamaican Baby
Jamaican Baby

All babies are beautiful but Jamaican babies are some of the most beautiful in the world. Yet, as beautiful as they are, they are being dealt some of the saddest of hands.

Can the average parent of a Jamaican child born today say that their child is ready to win first prize in the lottery of life, and if they did, would it be likely accurate?

The Jamaican child born today has entered a country massively in debt. Having taken his/her first breath he/she already owes nearly US$6,700 to assorted international Shylocks. Jamaica is now indebted to over two trillion US dollars. Frequent devaluation of the local currency results in a skyrocketing of the debt by several millions weekly. Our dollar is worth less than half of a US cent.

The Jamaican child born this very day will likely leave high school without passing the required five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects — the benchmark academic exit achievement of the Ministry of Education for students and standard requirement to matriculate into most tertiary-level institutions. Seven out of 10 students who ‘graduate’ do so without passing a single solitary subject. While he/she is likely to survive the miracle of birth, given local improvements in infant mortality comparable to many developed countries, he/she is likely to be murdered well before his/her 14 birthday if he lives below Torrington Bridge.

The address, connections (political, economic and social) of his parents, mode of register, diction, and color will largely determine, yes, determine, his status and social maneuverability locally.

The child born today has come into a society where income inequality is worse than Haiti. Nearly 20 per cent, one in five, or some 550,000 of his/her countrymen are living below the poverty line. His/her chances of proper health care beyond birth are rapidly decreasing, since most hospital services are in a ramshackle state with fewer and fewer Jamaicans being able to afford even basic health care.

“During 2012, individual poverty prevalence increased by 2.3 per cent relative to 2010 to reach 19.9 per cent. The report also stated that, despite the removal of user fees at public health facilities, one-fifth of those who did not seek care at the institutions said that they could not afford it. In the meantime, the preference for home remedies has continued as an increasing trend. The JSLC is produced jointly by the PIOJ and STATIN.” (Jamaica Observer, February 27, 2015)

Can the parent of the Jamaican child born today say, like Rhodes, to be born a Jamaican is to win first prize in the lottery of life?

Our economy is the sick man of the Caribbean. Today, various kings and queens of mediocrity speak glowingly about possible economic growth of 1.6, 0.5, and 0.9 per cent. We have truly fallen, and badly.

“In real terms, Jamaicans are no richer today than they were in the early 1970s. And most of the island’s enduring problems, like its public finances, are home-made.” (The Economist, July 2012)

Jamaica is where it is today primarily because of our abominably low standards in politics. Our corrupt politics is a debilitating disease, a cancer of the worst type. Why is this possible? Because we are, by and large, not a self-respecting people. We hold our politicians to the lowest common denominator. Dunces and the least of the intellectual apostles too often attain leadership and management of public affairs.

The chronic negligence of the National Solid Waste Management Authority, headed by Jennifer Edwards, a former mayor of Spanish Town, is a classic example of how too many of our public institutions have been hijacked by the least able. Edwards, a PNP ‘ginigog’, prominent member of the ruling People’s National Party Women’s Movement, and close friend of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, has been rewarded with a top job for years of loyalty and service to party. While it is standard for party loyalists to be rewarded in most if not all advanced liberal democracies as a rule after acquisition of State power, such persons are invariably competent. Jamaica is the capital of glaring exceptions.

It’s important to jerk your memory with the facts on how many times Riverton, the Caribbean’s biggest garbage dump, yes dump, there are no landfills in Jamaica is a classic metaphor for Jamaica’s dwarfed development has exploded or been made to explode in fire since 2004.

Cui bono [to whose benefit]. Simply those who own assorted heavy duty equipment, such as D 9 and D12, tipper trucks and, of course, their political ‘confederates’. The mathematics is quite simple here.

Can the parent of the Jamaican child born today say, like Rhodes, to be born a Jamaican is to win first prize in the lottery of life?

2004: “The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) advised the public yesterday that scheduled collection services have been disrupted and will continue to be affected as a result of a fire and continued protests at the Riverton disposal site. (Gleaner, August 27, 2004)

2005: “For days now the Riverton City dump has been burning. The smoke has become more than a nuisance and is now affecting the health of residents around the area, in Portmore, Plantation Heights, Queen and Forest hills. (Gleaner, April 25, 2005)

2006: On January 5, 2006, the usual happened, ‘Fire at Riverton Dump’.

2007: “A medical practitioner at the Alma Jones Medical Complex on Hagley Park Road told The Gleaner that a number of persons with respiratory problems visited his office yesterday for examination as a result of the heavy smoke which covered their communities. Stressing that it was a serious health hazard, the medical practitioner urged the authorities to address the problem as a matter of urgency.” (Gleaner, January 3, 2007)

2008: “The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) yesterday closed the Riverton landfill after a massive fire, believed to have been caused by the seeping of methane gas from rotting garbage, broke out at a section of the dump.

” ‘What we must do? We can’t do anything about it. Is long time this going on for and all we have to do is just watch it and do the necessary things that it don’t affect we,’ said a female resident, clutching her three-month-old baby as a thick cloud of smoke from the dump hovered in the distance behind her.” (Jamaica Observer, July 9, 2008)

2009: “The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) spent much of yesterday trying to control a fire at the Riverton dump. According to head of the NSWMA, Joan Gordon-Webley, the fire started shortly after midday. It engulfed sections of the rear of the dump and was still raging late into yesterday evening. Some residents of the nearby Riverton Meadows community were worried about the health risks posed by the thick smoke, while the entire area stretching back to Patrick Gardens experienced heavy smoke and soot-related inconveniences.” (Jamaica Observer, February 3, 2009)

2010: “Valuable production time was lost yesterday as some top-end businesses along Spanish Town Road in south St Andrew were forced to send employees home as thick smoke continued to rise from the Riverton landfill.

“Berger Paints, which has its main offices on Spanish Town Road, closed its offices early yesterday afternoon due to the pungent fumes coming from the landfill, while other establishments were forced to send home employees due to respiratory problems triggered by the smoke from the dump.

“On my complex they had to shut down for the morning and three-quarters of the staff had to be sent home due to respiratory problems. There is no operation going on,” one employee of J Wray & Nephew Ltd, which also has its main offices on Spanish Town Road, told The Gleaner.” (July 10, 2008)

2011: “The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) has reported that the fire at the Riverton landfill along Spanish Town Road in Kingston has been contained.

“Joan Gordon-Webley, executive director of the NSWMA, said a team is now working to get the smoke under control as quickly as possible.” (Gleaner, October 4, 2011)

2012: “Sections of the city and communities in Kingston 20 were yesterday covered with thick smog as noxious fumes emanated from a large fire at the Riverton landfill.

“The public defender is advising members of the public who are affected by the noxious fumes, particularly those who have respiratory illnesses, that his office is always ready to receive complaints about the problem.” (Gleaner, February 9, 2012)

2013: “Two units from the York Park Fire Station in Kingston are at this moment attempting to put out a massive fire in Riverton City, St Andrew.” (Gleaner, October 27, 2013)

2014: “KINGSTON, Jamaica — The fire that started some six days ago at the Riverton dump in Kingston is expected to be extinguished ‘very, very soon’ a representative of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) said Thursday afternoon.

When 18 Karat Reggae visited Riverton, several trucks were seen moving earth to the site with other heavy duty machinery shovelling and spreading the material to have the remnants of the fire fully extinguished. (Observer, April 24, 2014)

2015: “THE Jamaica Fire Brigade yesterday said that the latest fire at the Riverton dump — which since Wednesday had blanketed much of the city with choking smoke — had grown twice in size to approximately five acres, despite intense efforts to keep it under control.

“A total of eight fire trucks and four tractors — two D9 and two D12 — were brought to the site to fight the blaze.” (Observer, Friday March 13, 2015)

Can the parent of the Jamaican child born today say, like Rhodes, to be born a Jamaican is to win first prize in the lottery of life?

Millions upon millions have been spent extinguishing avoidable fires at the Riverton dump. In a story published in The Gleaner of Tuesday, July 29, 2014, the minister of local government said: “Some $128 million has been spent fighting fires at the Riverton dump since 2011, Local Government Minister Noel Arscott disclosed in Parliament today. The minister, who was responding to questions tabled by West Kingston MP Desmond McKenzie, said $75 million was spent fighting the last fire at the dump. He said that, while no exact cause of that fire has been identified, arson is suspected.”

This latest preventable fire will cost the pauperised Jamaican taxpayer some $272 million, according to preliminary estimates from the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI). This is money that could have been spent on remedying the shortage of blood pressure machines and X-ray films in some of our hospitals.

Who is left with the bag?

“Public health risks from unmanaged dumps like Riverton are: pollution of the Duhaney River, which is used for drinking and bathing by people living nearby; pollution of Hunt’s Bay, which scientists have called The Dead Zone — heavy metal contamination from cadmium, manganese, lead and pesticides. Studies of cadmium levels in the livers of Jamaicans at autopsy have found high levels, second only to Japan, and nearly twice as high as levels in Austria, Australia, the UK and Sweden.

“The toxic smoke from the average dump fire contains a wide range of air pollutants, including particulates, carbon monoxide, aldehydes (eg formaldehyde), acrolein, hydrogen bromide, hydrogen chloride,hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen fluroride, nitrogen oxides, phenol, sulfur dioxides, dioxins, and furans

“Health impacts of the air pollution from dump fires: increased risk of death among elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory and cardiac illnesses, infant mortality, low birth weight of babies, onset of childhood asthma, coughs, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, burning in eyes, nose and throat, dizziness, weakness, confusion, nausea, disorientation, exposure to known carcinogens. The seriousness of these depends on how close people are to the fire and the length of exposure.” (Jamaica Environment Trust)

Consistent with our no-one-is-responsible politics, the Ponchos Pilots are already washing their hands of culpability:

“The fire at Riverton is certainly not something that the NSWMA has facilitated, encouraged or otherwise, so I’m not of the view that there is a lack of management. What we may have is lack of resources to implement that management plan. I believe the NSWMA has managed the facility as best as is possible based on what we have there. I believe that, based on all of that, they have done very well in keeping the disposal site from erupting more frequently,” said Edwards. (Gleaner, March 15, 2015)

Jennifer Edwards is to go March 27, but what of the board of the NSWMA and the Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott? Will they retain their positions? This is the rancid reality of Jamaica’s political ‘runnings’.

Dr Fenton Ferguson, and his ministry did little if anything to prepare the country for the CHIKV outbreak that cost the economy conservatively $7 billion and $13 million lost man-hours of production time.

Phillip Paulwell, the veritable minister of announcements and smoke and mirrors, has cost this country millions in lost investments or failed missions. He is still a minister of government.

Two hundred years ago, Jamaica was the richest colony in the British Empire. Falmouth had running water before New York. In the 1960s and 80s we achieved six per cent average growth. Why is Jamaica so poor? Our politics!

Can the parent of the Jamaican child born today say, like Rhodes, to be born a Jamaican is to win first prize in the lottery of life?

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime. — Aristotle

Written by Garfield Higgins an educator and journalist. He can be reached at: higgins160@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

  1. All the big companies need to come together and put some money into the country because the politician is not doing anything and have not been doing anything for years and when they start doing this they need to put somebody good in charge that going to help the people of Jamaica but we as people have always stuck together going threw property and its the property causing all the turmoil in Jamaica and then they kill off the young men before the get to see 16

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