HARBOUR VIEW:---The Social Economic Council (SER), along with the entire public of St. Maarten, have been affected by the recent two dump site fires that covered Philipsburg and the surrounding neighborhoods with toxic smoke.
The Council, which in the past, called on Government to address the country’s landfill emergency situation, drafted its advice in December 2016. “The present challenges of the Pond Island landfill are critical and urgent. These problems go beyond party politics and should not be attributed to the past, present and/or future government(s),” said SER. Tackling the landfill is a concern for everyone in the community and should not be viewed as a political issue, according to the Council.
The SER is now calling on Government to come together and address this issue once and for all.
In its advice, SER urged Government to start the sorting of garbage such as the removal of recyclable and toxic materials. Management plans should ideally encompass operational requirements with appropriate guidelines/standards, including capacity building and regular monitoring against/of fires, said SER.
The SER being aware of the environmental urgency of the waste management problem on St. Maarten, which has been a problem now for more than 50 years worked on this unsolicited advice which was published in March 2017. The following six advisory points that were represented are core to any formal strategy going forward in creating a sustainable and safe environment for St. Maarten as a community and as a leading hub within the region.
This is the advice that was given by the SER at the time.
The SER unanimously advises the government of Sint Maarten:
1. To resume cooperation with the French side and to adopt an integrated waste management system similar to Saint Martin, focused on waste minimization, reuse, recycling and covering issues related to the health and ecology of the landfill.
2. To start with immediate effect separating the various waste streams on the landfill with the aim to sell various waste streams products. This includes the efficient sorting of the garbage such as the removal of recyclable and toxic material. Management plans should ideally encompass operational requirements with appropriate guidelines/standards, including capacity building and regular monitoring against fires.
3. To start a public awareness campaign to promote reduction of waste at household and community levels. Waste reduction should include use of clean technologies, reuse, separation, and recycling.
4. To immediately resume and renew the cooperation between the municipality of Amsterdam and Sint Maarten. Mainly the exchange of knowledge and experience in the areas of waste management and environment. This agreement expired on October 16th, 2017. The city of Amsterdam based on its working relationship with Sint Maarten officially offered to dispose of at least 50% of the present landfill. This offer would significantly aid the government of Sint Maarten with regard to the disposal of existing waste.
5. To update legal framework for waste management in line with international standards and to place more focus on enforcement measures. In addition, government should incorporate best practices from the Dutch Kingdom and adopt EU/international standards in waste management.
By doing so, the locally separated products are compatible with these markets.
6. Not to pursue the waste-to-energy facility for Sint Maarten. In 2010 the media reported that government plans to construct waste-to-energy facility for USD 115 million
In a press release issued by the Honorable Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure, Miklos Giterson stated that “it is believed that these two fires were man-made”. The Council stated that every time the landfill is set ablaze, the people, the tourist product, and environment suffers. The SER is concerned about the type of impact the various airborne pollutants, resulting from fires and toxic smoke might have on the healthy population. Although the St. Maarten Medical Center has not (yet) reported any increase in cases of respiratory-related issues, high-risk groups such as senior citizens, children and persons suffering from asthma remain at risk because of high sensitivity and/or high exposure from the smoke coming from the landfill; apart from more long-term effects that may not be noticeable for years to come. Furthermore the continued forced closure of government offices, schools and businesses down-wind from the landfill fires are negatively affecting our community as a whole.
Although SER is an advisory body to Government, the Council of Ministers is not bound to follow the recommendations in the letter titled “Better Waste Management for St. Maarten.” Nevertheless, the SER is urging government in the interest of the people to address this issue post haste.
Please visit our website www.sersxm.org to download a copy of the advice.