Pollutions and Health:

What Will Central Jamaica Look Like In Sixty Years 

By Valerie Dixon,

Caribbean Correspondent

Caribbean Correspondent

Editor’s Notes

According to Valerie Dixon, one of the Caribbean’s active consciences and alarm bells, Jamaica seems to be experiencing two types of pollutions, one affecting the environment and the other affecting effective governance, by the people and for the people.

Valerie’s current and historical writings, suggested that “the dust particles of one type of pollution make the water acidic and thereby damage our drinking water, our soil and our farm crops and sensitive forests like the Cockpit Country - an area that environmentalists are battling to save from mining”. ‘Political pollution’  lies in such government statement like  “The government will continue to play the role of facilitator to ensure the development of any mineral or mineral deposits and to ensure unhindered availability of mineral raw materials.”  Two types of pollutions – environmental and bureaucratic.  As implied, bureaucratic pollution includes those political leaders who sold Jamaica and Jamaicans cheaply, during the 1950s, which continues today which is impacting on the health of Jamaican people. 

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The last time I wrote an article on the environment for a certain newspaper, the Editor told me that it caused him “some regret”.

The article offended  ‘the powers that be’ and by way of retribution, I have been expunged from that newspaper.  Apparently the article was making the ordinary Jamaican citizen aware of the environmental crisis that Jamaica now faces and as far as the ‘powers that be’ are concerned the masses must forever be left undereducated and uninformed.

The criteria for ‘total health’ are: happiness, peace of mind, no time spent feeling ill or being in hospital, not taking any tablets and enjoying life to the fullest.

Because of how we have been educated and socially oriented, many of us will not be able to enjoy ‘total health’  Our educational system was influenced first by our colonial masters – the British; and in more recent times by the United States of America.

These countries are part of the Western developed world and for centuries their educational system has been based on competition and a hierarchy which says those at the bottom must remain there forever.

 Our educational system is also based on the separation of theory from practice (the theories we learnt in school/university are seldom practiced in the workplace) and it is totally institutionalized – meaning it is fully accepted as part of the culture and almost unchangeable.

However, the worst part about the westernized system of education is that it has wiped out our sense of interdependence and reliance on Nature.  The westernized educational system is built on fear, on control and on the suppression of those who are independent thinkers.  It idolizes the ‘herd instinct’ which says if you are to make it in this life, you must think and act according to the rulers or those ‘who run things’.

The western world is also called the industrial developed world and everyone is taught that ‘real wealth’ lies beneath the earth and must be extracted at all costs.  Hence, we dig for gold, silver, coal, oil and in Jamaica’s case – bauxite.

Jamaica is the tiniest producer of bauxite when compared to Guyana, Guinea, Brazil, China and Australia.  The sad truth is that the entire central area of Jamaica is made up mainly of limestone and bauxite.  Another sad truth is that the quality is very good and it is easy to reach, because it is almost on the surface of the land.

The first mining company arrived in Jamaica in 1952.  At that time our leaders knew nothing or very little about bauxite and the disadvantages of bauxite mining.  It is said that the leader of the day remarked that bauxite was ‘so-so dirt so let us give them all of it for one shilling per ton and let them dig it out for the next one hundred years’.  So the health of Jamaica’s born and unborn children at that time was sold for ten cents (one shilling) per ton.

It is now fifty-six years later and these leaders are dead and gone, but our health service is reeling under the pressure brought about by the ill-health caused by the open-pit mining practice of these foreign companies.

 It is interesting to note that in the western industrialized world most mining is done in pits deep under the earth where eyes cannot see.  So on the surface, the land is green and beautiful.  Not so in Jamaica – people literally live in and around the mines and dust is everywhere and people are given money to compensate for this terrible reality.

In the article that caused “some regret”, I revealed a part of the Government’s mineral policy which states that “The government will continue to play the role of facilitator to ensure the development of any mineral or mineral deposits and to ensure unhindered availability of mineral raw materials.”  What this in essence means is that our health service providers will never be without jobs, because our health has been ‘sold out’ in mining licenses for the next sixty years.

I also revealed the findings from scientific research done by the United States Environmental Protection Agency which states that dust pollution causes increased respiratory symptoms such as coughing or difficulty in breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic sinusitis and fatigue (tiredness).

Outdoor and strenuous activities such as farming and construction work increase these negative health effects.  The report goes on to say that dust particles can be carried over long distances by wind and the dust settles on the surface of rivers and ground water as well as, water tanks and reservoirs.

The dust particles make the water acidic and thereby damage our drinking water, our soil and our farm crops and sensitive forests like the Cockpit Country - an area that environmentalists are battling to save from mining.

It is interesting to note that those who defend mining in Jamaica, for the most part, do not live anywhere near where mining takes place.  A better deal was arrived at for the price of our bauxite, commonly referred to as the ‘bauxite levy’.

This money should have been ploughed back into the economy to help build roads and other infra structure, to build schools and better equip our hospitals and clinics and provide a better life for the citizens of Jamaica.

Rumour has it that the bulk of the levy is used to pay back loans that the country borrowed so that the few can have the best that money can buy.  It now begs the question, if bauxite is so good for Jamaica how come the majority of Jamaicans are so poor?  How is it that countries such as Cayman, Singapore and Costa Rica that have no bauxite or other minerals are so rich?

If we cannot get out of the stranglehold of these mining policies and mining licenses, then this article is merely an exercise in futility and purely for academic purposes.  So in the next sixty years what will central Jamaica look like?  One only has to look at places like Bellefield, Banana Ground, Spur Tree, Newport and drive towards Cross Keys to get the answer.

In the meantime, the way forward that the rest of the environmentally-conscious world is seriously considering is permaculture.  Permaculture is a word coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren.  It is a mixture of the words permanent and agriculture and also permanent and culture.  It basically means to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children and our children’s children.

Permaculture involves finding alternatives to fossil fuel (oil) such as more reliance on solar and wind energy.  It also means developing organic farming practices (used by the ancestors), not destroying the fishing industry through destructive practices such as using dynamite, giving up much of the chemicals that we use to poison the land and our food and recycling our wastes in order to use them in more creative and productive ways.

To have ‘total health’ we must return to spirituality.  Many of us have lost this vital part of our existence because of too much dependency on ‘empirical’ data.  Many of us have stopped listening to that ‘still small voice’ (intuition) because it isn’t ‘scientific’.

We must be in balance to enjoy good health. We need a healthy environment. We need happiness that is not necessarily found in cluttering up our lives with   material things which often times are at the base of crime and violence. We need to breathe clean, fresh air and to feel well. Our medicine should be our food.

Therefore,  the job of our health care providers should be to keep us in balance and to help us maintain this balance so that we can live well and enjoy life to the fullest.

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Valerie Dixon© 2008 may be contacted at: valeriecdixon@ubol.com

Other articles by Valerie Dixon can be viewed here