TCI News

TCI: Landfill Fires and Human Rights

#Providenciales, February 6, 2019 – Turks and Caicos – For several years there have been complaints made about the conditions in Blue Hills, particularly in the Wheeland area due to regular fires at the landfill site.  Over the last couple of days there have been many comments on social media about a new fire causing dense smoke in the settlement.

Although it’s not unusual to have an occasional problem at a landfill site, it is unusual that the landfill on Providenciales experiences fires so frequently.  In the United Kingdom, home to approximately 70 million people, there are around 280 to 300 landfill fires every year.  Providenciales, however, is a significantly smaller country with a population only 0.057% of the UK and having significantly less waste you would anticipate that a landfill fire would be unusual.  Unfortunately, for the residents impacted, this is not the case.

There have been many allegations for these fires, such as poor management, illegal immigrants burning coal kilns, to malicious sabotage, but ultimately, whatever the cause, it is Government’s responsibility to resolve this matter expeditiously. This is exactly the purpose governments are meant to fulfil, to maintain the basic infrastructure of a country enabling them to protect the economy, environment, health and life of its residents., these are fundamental human rights.

Landfill fires occur when waste disposed of in a landfill ignites and spreads. Two types of landfill fires are generally recognised. Surface Fires and Deep-Seated Fires. Surface fires typically occur in underdeveloped countries that lack the capacity to properly cover waste with inert daily and intermediate covering, in developed countries they are often caused by arson.  If unchecked, spontaneous combustion fires in particular, tend to burn deeper into the waste mass, resulting in deep seated fires.

Deep-Seated landfill fires, unlike a typical fire, are difficult to put out with water unless an overhaul operation is undertaken.  In human terms, the emissions arising from these fires, which can continue for years, are potentially lethal with well-proven acute and chronic health impacts.  Particularly concerning are the tire fires on landfills. Burning tires are known to emit dioxins and benzene derivatives which have been linked with reproductive impairment and cancer in humans.

The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights confers the responsibility upon States to ensure that residents have an adequate standard of living, this means that our Government is responsible for putting in place, and monitoring compliance with, legislation that protects our living standards.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 11

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.

The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also confers the responsibility upon States to ensure that residents enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  This is normally associated with promotional campaigns on health matters, free healthcare and adequate mental health services but it is also associated with the quality of the environment that we all live in.  In this respect this current administration is making a huge environmental stride with the move towards banning all single use plastics, an initiative that the Turks and Caicos Human Rights Commission fully endorses, but what of the devastating environmental conditions threatening the health of the residents of Blue Hills, Wheeland area?

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 12

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

 

  1. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

 

  • The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
  • The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
  • The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
  • The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

Due to the regular fires at the site many residents have reported difficulty in sleeping, problems with breathing and, especially of concern, the deteriorating health of children with asthma.  One post on social media commented that a local school had closed due to concerns for the health of the children.

When a school is forced to close due to environmental contamination the government must act swiftly and must act decisively.  Among the health impacts of landfill fires are both cancer and higher mortality rates for pregnant mothers and babies.  It’s not just the smoke that’s the problem but what that smoke contains, there is the potential here for residents of the area to experience long term health issues as a consequence of these potential pollutants.  These fires are not just an inconvenience they are a well-established threat to life.  The government must move swiftly in meeting their responsibilities under Article 12, subsection 2 (a) and (b) of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

  1. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

Human Rights are indivisible, this means that if one human right is impacted all human rights are impacted.  If you improve the access to one right, you improve the access to all rights and, conversely, if you restrict the access to one right this has a negative impact on all other rights.

These landfill site fires in Providenciales has a direct impact upon the health and quality of life of all the residents in the area and this impacts upon other rights.  People who get sick cannot go to work, children who are ill cannot make the most of their education, people who cannot open their windows have to rely on air conditioning further impacting upon their personal finances.

Although the government must act quickly to address the current fire at the landfill site it is far more important that they act decisively to prevent a reoccurrence of this in the future.  Whatever the real issues that lead to the repeated fires at the landfill site the government has a responsibility under international and domestic law to identify and put in place a permanent solution and to protect the lives and livelihoods of the residents and their children.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 6

  1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
  2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

 

Release: TCI Human Rights Commission

 

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