July 4, 2015

Toxic cloud

Ominously it approaches Male from the west now that the monsoon winds have changed that way. 

Thilafushi in Maldives is an environmental disaster in itself. The fumes from Thilafushi’s open burning of Male’s daily stock of garbage produces a hideous mix of toxic gases that rise in a visible plume 24 hours of the day and spreads it’s poison all around – the Galu-Falhu on its west and Villingili island to the east. A cocktail of mixed refuse is transported and dumped into this little shallow lagoon called Thilafalhu just a crow’s flight to the west of Male. For the past 40 years or so this shallow spot in the lagoon has been the sea-fill for all of Male’s municipal litter. Now with all this filth buried into its bowels, this shallow has been transformed into ‘Thilafushi’ – an island, by now of veritable size, containing warehouses, oil depots, office buildings, and most notably of all, the garbage dump of Male City, our little Capital. Daily, tons of this unsorted municipal waste of 130000 people is transported in huge barges to this spot in the serene turquoise waters of this island paradise. But the scene on Thilafushi is far from that of a paradise; it’s the stark opposite.  

On these days of soothing westerly zephyrs the ominous haze quickly floats the one mile or so distance and envelopes Male in an invisible ambience only noticeable by the unusual stench that pervades Male on and off ever so infrequently. Perhaps it’s nothing to worry about some say. Just imagine the thousands of chemicals inhaled wilfully and directly by perhaps a clear 50 percent of Male’s inhabitants who sport cigarettes dangling from their lips. So why worry of the occasional wafts from Thilafushi? The difference of course is that this is an environmental outcome affecting not just those unconcerned about their health as the smokers are, but those who are concerned and yet can do nothing about it except to curse the approaching plume.  

One can now add to this the ballooning condition of air pollution in Male city where motor vehicle traffic now abounds to throttling proportions and the resulting jams are the norm that forces both riders and pedestrians to continuously inhale mega doses of unleaded petrol fumes.

The Health Ministry’s marking of the world no-tobacco day also happened in a day of frenzy and then its message died with a whimper. The smokers continue to puff away like chimneys relishing the cheap prices the cigarette companies levy and irresponsible government policies allow. Yes, in not knowing or being oblivious to these prevailing facts, Maldives maybe bracing for a non-communicable diseases epidemic of epic proportions not too far down in the future.

When will our policy makers do something about the open dumping and burning on Thilafushi? Surely, the city council or the housing ministry – as the case maybe – can devise a garbage-segregation at the house-hold level policy that can solve this issue of open burning of plastics at Thilafushi? Male will then have a true windfall of a ‘cleaner’ plume from Thilafushi, even if nothing else is done. But of course the culprit of the dioxins must be collected and put to recycling.  I am sure we can take a page from what the tourist resorts are doing about this. And of course, in a country that is so effete in its soil-content, but where many are into vegetable farming and now also foraying into the pleasures of home-gardening, could we not make gold from garbage by commercially composting this one third or so of collected garbage? We will create jobs and reduce our import of biodiversity-damaging compost from outside our shores. For the know-how on composting, there are sprouting local examples also. But given our aversion to listening to home-grown solutions, I guess “a prophet is never heard in his own country” adage applies too well here. Alas, for us it has always been alien solutions that seem to attract us!  

And that goes for our other habits also. As such, in regards to our second case here, when will we as a public wake up to the tricks of the cigarette companies to keep us who are in poorer countries hooked and clearly directed towards the disease and slow death these products augur?

No comments: