One dutty never built a dam

Around mid-December of last year, the Inter-national Labour Organization (ILO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Protection launched a report on a study conducted in Guyana on the skills required for green jobs, which highlighted the “policies, programmes and emerging opportunities” as Guyana sets it eyes on “transitioning into a green economy.” According to the report, which was launched at the Marriott Hotel and attended by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the creation of more, better and green jobs is a target for this country “as laid out in the Guyana Green State Development Strategy.”

Creating a ‘green state’ is premised on developing a skills-base for green jobs. At least the study done with the help of the ILO means that the course which must be taken in order to achieve this has been set out on paper. Greening the economy will require much adjustment, as well as new approaches in the traditional sectors with moves towards renewable energy, eco-friendly agriculture and the like, all of which have been outlined in the report.

But there is a connection that is not being made, either by the government which is pushing the green economy, or the people expected to live in it. This disconnect is displayed all around us every day, hiding in plain sight so to speak. Or is it that we have all become immune to the pollution caused by poor solid waste disposal that we fail to see what a downer it is to the greening plans being avidly pursued?

Towards the end of December last year, this newspaper published an article on the garbage problem in the Essequibo riverside township of Charity. It was accompanied by a photo of a litter-filled drain and overflowing garbage bins just outside the Charity Magistrate’s Court. In this report, the Charity/Urasara Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) and the garbage removal contractor traded blame for the problem, which according to residents of the area had been ongoing for years. The NDC is locked into a 15-year contract with Puran Brothers to remove the garbage, but there is wrangling over whether that company’s workers should just empty the bins, or pick up the garbage around that would have fallen from them. The company is content with its workers doing just the former. The resulting stalemate means that Charity just has to put up with the litter left strewn around (and the enduring stench) after the company has completed its garbage collection, or hire another contractor to clean up afterwards. In truth, the situation is ludicrous, but it is no laughing matter when one considers that the Charity situation is just one case in point. Sadly, there are too many areas with glaring similarities and Georgetown is one of them.

It is not unusual to see contracted workers clear a drain of garbage, for instance, and leave behind the vegetation that is also preventing the free flow of water, because it was not part of their contract, or vice versa. A popular one is when workers clear drains and trenches, but leave the material they have removed piled up at the side because another company or section is supposed to cart it away. Inevitably, much of it ends up back where it came from.

There is an unending cycle of incompetence, lack of care and downright apathy that does not bode well for the plans to green Guyana’s economy. If all of the blinders were removed, it would be clear to all, including the planners, that it would be impossible to build a green economy on top of filth.

How green can the country be when in every area there are overflowing landfills of mixed garbage? Where are the plans for recycling? Why are they not being put into place? These are things that can and should be done at the community level. Is there not a single progressive NDC in the entire country which can step up to the plate and begin encouraging citizens to separate their refuse?

The transition to cardboard food containers, which is still in progress, after the importation of Styrofoam was prohibited at the beginning of 2016, is an indication that people can and will use alternatives if they are made available. However, there was no capitalisation on this success and that wheel has stopped turning.

There is a Guyanese idiom which many are familiar with: ‘Wan, wan dutty build dam.’ It translates loosely to mean that small bricks put together will eventually build the dam, house, fortress or whatever. Small successes put together will lead to large ones. We have got to stop placing ‘wan dutty’ and expect to see a dam suddenly emerge. Consistency is the name of the game.

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