Now a lot of the nasty damage and poisoning done to our environment are crimes, with most of the laws falling under the Regional Corporations and Environmental Management Authority. But of course, the laws must be stoutly enforced by Estate Police Constables, Municipal Police Officers, Litter Wardens, Health Inspectors, or more generally, the police. Parliament gave the Town and Country Division powers to ensure “the orderly and progressive development of land in both urban and rural areas and to preserve and improve the amenities thereof.”
Intended to be a powerhouse protector of the environment, Parliament gave the Environmental Authority (EMA) powers to “take all appropriate action for the prevention and control of pollution and conservation of the environment.” This includes rivers and beaches. The EMA was also given powers “to develop and establish national environmental standards.” The EMA is also required to appoint inspectors to enforce the laws.
There are other laws to prevent the dangerous abuse of chemicals and pesticides. And then there is the Municipal Corporations Act which has over 100 specific laws aimed at keeping the community lawful, clean and orderly – from providing urinals to cutting down overgrown bushes and breaking down dilapidated, deserted buildings. No one, says the Act, is allowed to “erect any building without the plans approved by the Corporation.” No pedlars, hawkers or hucksters (vendors) are allowed to sell or trade on the streets without getting a license from the Municipal Council. One of my favourite ones is this: “A Council shall cause street-name signs to be placed and maintained at appropriate locations throughout the Municipality and shall cause all relevant number plates to be affixed to all premises.” (Corporations Act, 1990, Section 139)
In the book, Environmental Crime, M. Clifford and T. Edwards state “environmental crime typically refers to crime involving hazardous waste, irresponsible corporate activities, water contamination or other related violations.” Bathing in “Damper,” once a river-bathing spot for Aranguez youths, carried a danger we never knew. We were bathing in the whitish, toxic waste from the “carbide factory” higher up the river and next to Industrial Gases Company. Questions have also been asked about why excessive quarrying and fowl farms have been allowed to dirty up the rivers in Caura, San Juan and Valencia for so long? A precious natural spectacle, Tobago’s Buccoo Reef is fighting for its life —never mind the “tyre reefs” used to help save its death. But all this — unchecked oil spills, dead rivers, dead crayfish and dead corbeaux — all this reflects our attitudes to life and ourselves. We haven’t yet reached the mental level to know that you just don’t walk away from the pollution you cause. It can affect you too. Things seem to have gotten so bad that the garbage left in the rivers and beaches cuts across gender, race and social class. The lawlessness seems to come from the same attitude that produces rudeness on the roads, pushing to get “in front,” etc, etc. Yes, money and tall urban buildings are signs of growth, but human development can still lag behind. That is why some writers say that “under-development is a state of mind.”
Three Sundays ago, Peter O’Connor’s column was headlined: “Poisoning Our Rivers.” Referring to the sudden death of crayfish and crabs in Brasso Seco’s Marianne River, O’Connor wrote: “This is not an isolated case. These rivers are becoming more poisoned and polluted with human waste, garden and agricultural chemical run-off and tons of silt being washed out of quarries. We clearly have absolutely no shame at our degradation.”
But these dirty habits pile up at our door steps too. In a letter to the editor, S.Ali said: “On April 11, I came home to see that my neighbour had cleaned his apartment building and dumped huge bags of garbage directly outside my gate.”
But there is still hope. Last Sunday, there was this dead flamingo bird lying on the beach for a long while, with one person after another just passing by, watching the dead bird which was being tossed in and out by the waves. Rather than taking it out myself, I used this as an “experiment.” I wanted to see how many people would just pass by without taking up the dead bird. After an hour, and 40 persons passing by, a teenager stopped, picked up the bird, dug a hole away from the beach and buried it. We applauded.