Reacting to the recent contamination of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine by effluent from Windalco that led to a fish kill and disrupted the use of the river for livelihoods and water supply, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) this morning (August 17) urged local corporate entities to show greater awareness and responsibility as they carry out their operations.
In a statement, the PSOJ noted that the Rio Cobre contamination and fish kill not only created a serious issue of health and public safety, but also affected the economic livelihood of persons and industries both directly and indirectly.
“The suspension of water supply and use of the river for days and weeks have already created and will generate further hardship that is unacceptable,” the PSOJ said.
“This regrettable occurrence highlights a greater need for responsibility with respect to the discharge of waste into water bodies.”
Days after the incident, Prime Minister Andrew Holness indicatd that the National Environment and Planning Agency had concluded an assessments and that action would be taken to prosecute Windalco and to prevent any recurrence of similar pollution incidents.
The PSOJ said today it was imploring all corporations that manufacture and generate waste to pay particular attention to the discharge of effluent and the management of wastewater in general.
“Contamination of rivers, streams, and gullies has serious implications for public health and the livelihood of people who live in surrounding communities and along the respective courses,” the organisation added.
“Many of our rivers are used for potable and non-potable uses, and interface with sectors such as: agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, housing, tourism among others. On the individual level, activities such as drinking, washing, recreational and other uses are also affected.
“Our private sector should not add to what has been an ongoing and growing challenge of pollution
in our surface waterways and groundwater resources.”
The PSOJ stressed that its Energy Environment and Climate Change Committee has maintained that both
surface and groundwater must be protected.
“Water of good quality is fundamental to the health of our population, the health of our environment and for the positive economic growth of Jamaican communities. This ought not to be compromised whether being done intentionally or unintentionally,” the organisation said.
“As we experience increasingly variable rainfall and longer than usual dry periods (drought) because of climate change, recharge of rivers and groundwater may be compromised. We must therefore seek to protect our available resources. With the positioning of several industrial entities, agricultural operations, and settlements close to waterways, it is imperative that we remain mindful that our actions upstream have implications downstream.
“Some of these impacts may be immediate whereas some may compound or occur over a longer period. Therefore, precautionary measures must be instituted and always exercised.”
The PSOJ said it was insufficient to speak of ‘corporate social responsibility’ only in the context of philanthropy, and that entities must consider best practice in care and duty to the land, livelihood,
population, and settlements in areas surrounding and downstream of operations.
At the same time, the organisation called for th Government, inclusive of the environment, health, and planning authorities, to provide adequate resources for those entities with direct and indirect oversight of
said areas (environment and public health).
“This support will facilitate guidance to these enterprises, as well as ensure that efficient and effective monitoring and enforcement of regulations are carried out, and that corrective actions are implemented where necessary,” the PSOJ said.
“It is important that regulations and punitive measures commensurate with violations be put in place. However, individuals and corporate entities must also exercise pre-emptive environmental best practices and ‘Duty of Care’ as they contribute to social and economic development, and to prosperity that is sustainable. The UN Sustainable Development Goal and Goals of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 must remain our guideposts.”