Adding insult to injury

It is bad enough that for more than two decades, residents of and visitors to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, have had their senses assaulted by the sight and smell of garbage. Piles and piles of it, thrown just about anywhere and left sometimes for weeks at a time.

Worse, residents have had their yards, and often, their homes flooded after the slightest drizzle of rain, causing damage to costly furniture and appliances, because drains, canals and alleyways are clogged with thick mud, riotously growing vegetation, which almost seems as if it has been fed with Miracle Gro and again, garbage – plastic bags, bottles and cups and cardboard and styrofoam boxes.

Worse still, cockroaches, mice, rats as hugs as cats and countless other vermin live in and around these ad hoc dumpsites, exposing the entire city to disease. It is the children who suffer the most. A visit to any paediatrician’s office or hospital on any given day will reveal scores of children with unusual fevers, diarrhoea and coughs, brought on by airborne viruses. City Paediatrician Dr Rohan Jabour complains endlessly about the state of the city and its effect on children’s health – to no avail.

While some city residents are not completely blameless, the ultimate responsibility lies with those who govern the affairs of the city and by extension the country as well. It must be noted here, that the scenario described above does not only exist in the capital, but in other towns and in rural areas also. This column, however, just deals with Georgetown today and there’s a reason for this.

Last week, the central government embarked on what it called a ‘massive’ clean-up exercise, involving over 400 workers. The Government Information Agency (GINA) duly trotted out a press release, complete with a photograph of the workers relaxing after a morning of ‘hard work’. However, a look around Georgetown revealed that this was nothing more than a publicity stunt and of course, a waste of resources. There was as much as or perhaps even more garbage than before and obviously, the workers would have had to be paid.

To add insult to injury and not to have its nose put out of joint by the government, this week, the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) started its own ‘massive’ clean-up campaign, which it said would last ten days. Despite giving it a fixed period, the M&CC said it hoped this current campaign would be “more sustainable” than its previous efforts.

How can a ten-day campaign be sustainable? What happens after the ten days? If city residents were not so apathetic with regard to the dump they have to live in, this surely would have raised their ire. In any case, neither the central government nor the M&CC have any business conducting any clean-up campaign. The former must provide the mandate and the means; the latter must keep the city clean every single day – not just for Christmas, tourism conferences and World Cup cricket. Hasn’t the government learned anything from its so-called rehabilitation of Le Repentir earlier this year?

Garbage disposal and collection are major issues, which City Hall just cannot seem to get a handle on. There are ongoing problems with garbage contractors, a dearth of properly functioning trucks belonging to the city and a new dumpsite that does not operate as it should, which we have all heard of ad nauseam. There are also business owners who compound the issue by having odd-job men—many of whom are drug addicts—clean their premises and dispose of their garbage daily. This they do by taking the rubbish to the nearest corner or empty lot and dumping it there. Everyone is aware of this, City Hall, the business owners and even the government, yet it continues. Other drug addicts, mentally ill persons and stray animals, which the city has a surfeit of, routinely rummage in garbage bins and at the corner dumpsites, spreading the problem further.

What is sad is that there is nothing written here that is new. Everyone knows what the problem is: the President, the Prime Minister, the Mayor, the Leader of the Opposition, the Cabinet, the MPs; they all know. Many of these individuals live in the city. They drive past the filth two or more times a day—for instance, there is a ‘dumpsite a few yards from the home of a top government official—but they all routinely ignore it. This speaks volumes about all of us but more so about the people we have elected to govern our affairs.

Georgetown is dying, virtually drowning in a stinking mess, while the country’s elected officials trumpet ‘development’ and point to the haphazard construction of buildings and roads. Absolute garbage!

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