ORANJESTAD – “Look how I looked then. Recently someone did not greet me because she no longer recognized me ”. Maria * shows a picture of herself. The difference is indeed large: she is much thinner now with sunken cheeks, dull eyes and looks little like the well-groomed woman from a while back. In the photo you can also see her son in the back seat, with threads and white patches on his chest: he now has heart problems due to chronic inflammation of his airways.
Maria and her family live a few hundred meters from the ‘dump Parkietenbos’, Aruba’s largest landfill. They get sicker every year just like many other residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. It now concerns chronic allergies, skin problems, asthma and other lung diseases, heart problems, cancer.
It no longer matters whether the dump is closed or open, Maria says as she opens the refrigerator: three drawers are crammed with drugs for asthma, allergies and other ailments. They are all puffers, there are oxygen masks and pumps, mouth masks.
“Today the dump is closed but the smell, I can hardly breathe, has a headache all day. It gets worse because a new, rotting odor has been added. From Ser’i Teishi (new underground landfill to relieve Parakeet forest, ed.). And then they will soon also want to burn medical waste in an incinerator here? Why do they put the oven back here and not the minister’s door? “
“It no longer matters whether the dump is closed or open” – resident Maria
In recent months there has been considerable riot about a new waste bill that the environment minister says can close and clean up the dump. Employees of waste companies blocked streets, there is a media war between supporters and opponents, and even a political crisis in the government coalition about it. But where is the protest from the dumpom residents, who have been getting sicker every day for decades, from the landfill? Why are they barely in the picture? Why is the riot no longer about the ‘health scandal’ Parakeet forest instead of who is allowed to process and earn the waste?
|Protests – The owner and employees of Ecotech / Ecogas are very angry with Minister Oduber who takes their bread with his waste law, they think. But Oduber says that waste processing and management should be in the hands of the
state-owned company Serlimar because these tasks are the responsibility of the government.
“Many people who live here are passive, yes. They often do not know what is true, what information they should believe. The dump has always been political. We are also afraid of political persecution, because that has happened and is still happening. That is why many remain anonymous, including me, ”says Maria, who protests in the background with letters and signature campaigns.
“Residents are so used to the smoke and smell, they should actually test if they are sick” – minister Otmar Oduber
But regardless of politics, to this day, the government has not conducted any research into the health of dumpom residents. Nobody knows exactly how big and how serious the problem is. How many citizens are sick and how they can be helped and protected. Otmar Oduber, the environment minister who is now talking about the Parkietenbos dump, remarkably enough recognizes that many people are indeed getting sick from the pollution. He talks about his recent home visits to ‘sick residents and deformed children, children who have asthma’. And also says: “Many residents have the option of going to the doctor. But they are so used to the smoke first and now the smell that they often don’t know they have anything. They should actually be tested for diseases. “
Danger of contamination
Seventy years after the occurrence of the dump that now protrudes almost 22 meters above ground and about 18 meters below ground, the health problems in the surrounding neighborhoods have grown with it. The diseases are becoming more serious, chronic and increasingly difficult to ignore. There is even a risk of infection. “I don’t want to cause panic, but residents who work in North or Savaneta (elsewhere on the island, ed.), Go there daily, they can infect other people,” the minister says.
Why does it get out of hand when experts warned more than 40 years ago about the consequences if the dump continued to grow? “Lack of courage and decision making by the governments of the past 30 years,” Oduber blames. “Parakeet forest was first and foremost a waste problem and now the first to be a health problem.”
Where does the investigation go?
But why has there still been no research with this government in the saddle for two years? “We first had to have a plan to slow down the problems. We now have that. ”But the minister admits that he is not yet conducting an investigation with his fellow health minister. “That must happen now.” He does not specify a period.
Is a reason that the government does not want to cut itself in the fingers? Because, for example, residents can use the research results in a court case against the government? Minister Oduber replied: “Yes, I am honest about that, it is a lack of daring. But that was with all governments, because you know you have to solve it then. Because the results will be shocking to all of us. “
After 39 years Maria wants to leave now. “It’s my neighborhood, my parents live here – they also have problems, my father is very sick in his lungs now -, my children have their friends here. It wasn’t as bad as it is now. I can no longer do this to my children. They cannot play outside, they become more and more sick. The dump takes away their youth and maybe all their future. “
* The name of Maria is fictitious in this article and her voice is distorted. Her real name is known to the editors.