Have Your Say
JM | Aug 5, 2022

Civil society advocates in Jamaica | Enough! We need action to protect the Rio Cobre

/ Our Today

administrator
Aerial imagery of the Rio Cobre catchment area at Dam Head in St Catherine. (Photo: Twitter @CaptainPlexx)

A coalition of civil society groups, including the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Advocates Network, and Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is no longer satisfied with the protection or lack thereof afforded to the mighty Rio Cobre in St Catherine, following another industrial effluent from the Russian-owned West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCO).

The Rio Cobre, which delivers some 40 per cent of all drinking water to Kingston and St Andrew, Spanish Town and Portmore, continues to be besieged by caustic spills that kill local fish, inconvenience residents and fisherfolk and impact the quality of water.

The joint statement, in full, reads:

The undersigned civil society organisations and individuals would like to express our concern regarding
the repeated discharges into the Rio Cobre, St Catherine identified by the National Environment and
Planning Agency (NEPA) as coming from the bauxite-alumina refinery at Windalco in Ewarton, owned
by UC Rusal.

These discharges have contaminated the river, affecting water quality, killing fish and other organisms, and compromising the livelihoods and food sources of surrounding community members.

The most recent spill has also resulted in the interruption of domestic water supplies to parts of Spanish Town and [the wider] St Catherine, as well as the supply of irrigation water to farmers causing them undue expenses to obtain alternative water sources.

We are especially concerned at the long-standing nature of this problem.

ROOT CAUSE: Pictured here is the caustic substance emanating from a nearby pond owned and operated by Windalco in Ewarton, St Catherine. (Photo: Twitter @dmccaulay)

Over decades and under different management/ownership, Windalco has received multiple breach and enforcement notices from regulators. They are currently the defendants in a legal case filed by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) over a 2019 discharge into the river. Last year, there was another similar pollution event on August 2, 2021.

We support recent indications that an environmental performance bond put in place in 2021 will be
called upon to compensate those most affected, including residents of the area, and carry out remediation activities. Our focus, however, is the urgent establishment of effective waste treatment
and reclamation facilities that will ensure spills do not happen in future, even in conditions of heavy
rain.

Given the realities of the climate crisis, where Jamaica is likely to experience periods of heavier rainfall
and more prolonged drought, we believe it is imperative that our environmental management regimes
do not continue the errors of the past.

Water hyacinth plants over the surface of a section of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine following the most recent caustic spill that caused a mass killing of local fish and tainted the water supply for days. (Photo: Twitter @dmccaulay)

We further strongly believe that we need rational, fair and stringent laws and regulations, with sanctions that provide a deterrent for breaches, in order to protect not only our rivers and freshwater supplies, but the welfare of all Jamaicans.

SIGNED:

  1. Advocates Network
  2. Anthony Davis of the Charlemont Drive Citizens Association
  3. Good News Jamaica Communications Limited
  4. Michael Chamunda Williams, president of the Hope Pastures Citizens Association
  5. Jamaica Conservation Partners
  6. Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC)
  7. Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)
  8. Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal
  9. Jamaica Environmental Entrepreneurs Advocacy Network
  10. Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals
  11. Jamaicans for Justice
  12. WMW Jamaica
  13. National Integrity Action Jamaica (NIA)
  14. Natural History Society of Jamaica
  15. Dr Horace Levy, Carla Gullotta of Stand up For Jamaica (SUFJ)
  16. Diana McCaulay, environmental activist
  17. Laura Facey, artist
  18. Robert Stephens
  19. Reverend Peter Espeut, sociologist and development scientist
  20. Dr Patricia Green
  21. Dr Barbara Carby, disaster risk reduction advocate
  22. Deborah Duperly-Pinks
  23. Mark Martin
  24. Judith Wedderburn, defender of environmental justice, St Andrew
  25. Dr Esther Figueroa, Vagabond Media
  26. Jenny Jones, sociologist
  27. Judith Salmon, artist
  28. Carol Narcisse, civil society advocate
  29. Wendy A Lee, environmentalist
  30. Adrian O Watson, environmental scientist
  31. Cecile Johnson Semaj,
  32. Dr Honor Ford Smith
  33. Hilary Nicholson
  34. Dr Anna Perkins
  35. Father Sean Major-Campbell
  36. Reverend Hilda Vaughan
  37. Indi Mclymont-Lafayette
  38. Jamila Falak
  39. Linette Vassell
  40. Dr Maziki Thame
  41. Nora Blake
  42. Professor Opal Palmer Adisa
  43. P.N. Grant
  44. Rachel Dolcine
  45. Professor Rosalea Hamilton
  46. Rosemarie Francis-Binder
  47. Shirnett Bailey
  48. Rene Gayle-Roper
  49. Dr Caroline Dyche
  50. Mark Cameron
  51. Rukie Wilson
  52. Andrew Baston
  53. Dr Sylvia Mitchell
  54. Rachel Goffe
  55. Patricia Donald Phillips
  56. Wayne Beecher

Comments

What To Read Next