Haina, a Dominican City Famous for Its Pollution

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Ivet González (IPS) writes about Bajos de Haina, an industrial port city in the Dominican Republic:

Rubbish covers the beaches and clutters the rivers, the garbage dump is not properly managed, and more than 100 factories spew toxic fumes into the air in the city of Bajos de Haina, a major industrial hub and port city in the Dominican Republic.

“We’ve only made it into the news as one of the world’s most polluted places,” lamented Adriana Vallejo, a schoolteacher who talked to IPS in the Centro Educativo Manuel Felix Peña, a school that teaches the arts in this city 80 km to the south of Santo Domingo. Vallejo was referring to the list of the 10 most polluted places on earth drawn up periodically by the New York-based Blacksmith Institute (which has changed its name to Pure Earth). The Institute’s latest report, from 2013, listed Bajos de Haina in third place, after Dzerzhinsk, Russia, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, which suffered one of the worst environmental disasters in history, caused by the catastrophic nuclear accident in 1986. [. . .]

According to the “Map of Poverty in the Dominican Republic 2014”, 33 percent of households in this city of 159,000 people are poor. “Private companies contribute a little to improving things, but only with small gestures, such as facilities at the school that were refurbished by the oil refinery (the only one in this Caribbean island nation). We haven’t seen a real desire for Haina to change,” said the teacher, who has lived here for 25 years. “When the situation gets out of hand, we hold protest marches,” she said. “The people have had to take to the streets to fight serious problems like burning in the garbage dump, which enveloped Haina in a curtain of smoke.”

The manufacturing, chemical products, pharmaceutical, metallurgical and power plants and the oil refinery emit every a combined total of 9.8 tons of formaldehyde, 1.2 tons of lead, 416 tons of ammonium, and 18.5 tons of sulfuric acid annually. The city’s thermoelectric complex produces more than 50 percent of the electricity available for the economy and the country’s 9.3 million inhabitants.

In this city, 84 hazardous substances have been identified, 65 of which are major toxics. Factories dump waste into the rivers and the sea. And noise pollution is another problem affecting human health. Scientific studies warn that a majority of local residents suffer from ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, the flu and acute diarrhea.

In this city of 50 square km, the main environmental woes are air, water and noise pollution, problems caused by the open-air dump, and municipal solid waste scattered everywhere. Where tons of garbage now cover a wide open area, there was a forest 30 years ago, “where I used to wander as a kid,” said high school math teacher Juan Ventura, who took IPS to the dump. “People who used to live around here back then are nostalgic and sad; we miss what was once a natural area that used to be known as El Naranjal.” “The city’s garbage is brought here, with absolutely no kind of health policies. For decades, they even brought in part of the garbage from Santo Domingo. The only thing they did was burn it, and the entire local population had to breathe the nauseating smoke.

“It’s pathetic that the local authorities have no serious policy for recycling, and some local residents scavenge waste materials on their own, without any protective measures,” he said, pointing to around a dozen men and women sorting through bags of garbage for scraps of material, plastic and metal, to classify and sell them to recycling companies.

One of the women, her hands filthy from scavenging, told IPS that she is involved in this informal activity because of the money she can earn. The woman, who is originally from neighbouring Haiti, said she makes between 22 and 44 dollars a day collecting plastic that she resells – a considerable sum in a country where the minimum monthly wage is 231 dollars.

The authorities say Haina is suffering from the legacy of years of nearly non-existent environmental legislation. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/haina-a-dominican-city-famous-only-for-its-pollution/

 

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