This new coalition government and the Minister of Communities should start to look at zoning plans for housing schemes and residential areas. As a former director of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) for 8 years, I observed that the previous administration was allowing industrial activities to take place in residential areas with impunity. Lots of people and children here on the Essequibo Coast, have become sick because of pollution from dust, noise and smoke caused by their neighbours. They don’t know who to turn to for help; they get the royal runaround from the relevant agencies when they lodge their complaints, and no one seems interested in investigating what is happening in their communities. A single parent has told me that her neighbour is burning metal night and day to make scales, pots and other things, next to her house; the smoke and fumes infiltrate her bedroom and have caused both her and her children to develop shortness of breath, and running noses and eyes. She had to seek medical treatment from a private doctor, which entails huge sums of money. She tried talking to the neighbour, but only received a sound ‘busing.’
She then decided to report this matter to the EPA, the Anna Regina Town Council, the public health inspector, the police and other relevant authorities, but there was no help forthcoming. The PHI bluntly refused to go and have a look at her complaints, saying that is not his job. Worst of all she reported it to the EPA many times and no one from Georgetown ever came. Some people who couldn’t get help in relation to pollution of one kind or another have been forced to sell their properties and move out of the place where they were born for the sake of peace and their health. In my tenure as a member of the regional land selection committee of Region Two, an industrial site was developed in 2000 behind the Anna Regina new housing scheme; some people were given land so they would remove their workshop activities from the residential areas and go into the industrial scheme. However, they still preferred to operate their businesses in the housing areas, to the detriment of people’s health.
Pollution issues in residential areas are often an underlying cause of conflict between neighbours, especially when the relevant agencies fail to act in protracted cases. Decision-makers have not sought to bring the people who violate the EPA Act before the court, and the people are faced with the reality that there are some agency forces which work against them. Something has to be done urgently by the new coalition government about these illegal industrial activities. Failing to act effectively will cause people to lose faith in the government.
It is noted that these small illegal industries and businesses operating in residential areas sometimes discharge toxic waste. In 1996, the EPA Act was passed in parliament, thereby establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. This act mandates the EPA to oversee the effective management, protection and improvement of the environment, and the prevention and control of pollution. What I find amazing is that this act has become dormant.
I had a similar problem to that of my friend and I reported the matter to Mr Doorga Persaud, who was the Chief Executive Officer of the EPA. He acted expeditiously in my case, but after he was transferred to the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, the matter stalled. For the EPA to be effective it must be free from political interference and have strong leadership. President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo must now reshape the EPA to serve the people who do not have a voice and are being taken advantage of by bullies.