His Excellency Sir Clarence Seignoret, G.C.B., O.B.E.
President of the Commonwealth of Dominica
The First Meeting of the Fifth Session of the Third Parliament Under the Commonwealth of Dominica Constitution Order, 1978
Monday, 12th June, 1989
Honourable Members of the House of Assembly,
I wish first to extend greetings to all Members of this Honourable House and their families, also to all Dominicans for their well being, good health and continued prosperity. I hope that this session of Parliament will be both cordial and productive.
We have successfully emerged from the activities organized to mark the Year of Reunion, and 1989 has been declared "The Year of Environment and Shelter" dubbed the "YES" year. In keeping with this topic, I have chosen "Comfortable Living in Clean Surroundings" as the theme of the Message.
The overall plan of the "YES" project is ambitious and long ranged. It is important to define clearly and then control, or better still, to prevent the adverse effects of the environment on our health. The process may be long and painful and fraught with obstacles from competing interests in society. Public recognition of the issues involved is only the first step towards their resolution. Judgments and decisions used in controlling environmental health hazards are influenced, not only by the availability of scientific knowledge, but also by economic, political, cultural and other combinations.
Our environment can be adversely affected by pollutants discharged into the air, water and soil, and these also affect our health. The indiscriminate disposal of liquid and solid wastes into our rivers and streams, into the sea and on land also impacts negatively on our health.
Disease carrying vectors also play a role in affecting the environment; our work and home environment, where most of our time is spent need to be healthful places where we can function in comfort and safety, free from health hazards.
Management of Domestic Waste
We are currently facing a major problem of managing domestic waste, and many people don't bother who takes care of their garbage, they just want to dispose of it, but unsafe disposal of waste also contributes to water and soil pollution, which has adverse effects on land and gives rise to public health nuisances and inevitably leads to the gradual deterioration of the environment.
As citizens become more aware of the importance of environmental issues and their related personal responsibilities, it is to be expected that public contributions to overcoming environmental degradation will gain in importance and all will work more enthusiastically to improve conditions. The collection and safe disposal of human wastes are among the most important issues of Environmental Health.
More than a dedication to hard work is needed. Cooperation and a sense of common purpose will be required before Dominica will be a completely "beautiful island", with citizens placing a high priority on literally ‘cleaning up their own backyards'.
Enforcement of legislation, is but one battle in war against ‘litter' and ‘waste disposal', but what also troubles environmentalists is the possibility that people have become immune to the untidy sight of garbage.
The year 2000 has taken on a magical effort, for health and we should work to solve our garbage problem by then. Whatsoever the time table, we must concentrate on educating the younger generation in environmental matters, - about water conservation and our responsibility to protect all water catchment areas from pollution.
The people of this country may be taking some progress in addressing domestic waste woes, but experience elsewhere has shown that affluence in a modernized society does not of itself bring greater public responsibility. In the area of waste disposal, it will take persistent efforts on the part of the Government, Local Government Agencies, schools, the business sector and all other citizens, before outdated habits of littering and garbage disposal can be changed.
While inadequate garbage disposal facilities plague all countries, our condition is exacerbated by traditional practices and limited space. After collection, there is then the serious question of safe disposal and this is a major problem in a small mountainous country with incidence of high rainfall.
We must develop regular and safe methods of removing household refuse. The organization of community garbage collection and disposal systems has become a question of major environmental concern.
My Government is fully cognizant of the problem, and it is gratifying to note that the situation is receiving the attention it deserves, at the highest possible level of the Administration.
The housing sector is experiencing a level of growth never seen before in this country, and this is having a remarkable effect on solving the unemployment situation.
The Residential Environment
No part of man's environment affects his health and well-being more directly than the house in which he seeks shelter, security, comfort and dignity. The home environment helps to shape his life and attitudes: it creates the setting in which he begins and ends his days, in which he is educated, marries, raises children and associates with his fellow-men. The home represents what a man believes in, what he will protect. It influences his sense of civic and communal responsibility and relates him to his physical surroundings and to the history and culture of his community.
It is now generally recognized that what is true of the individual house is true also for the wider setting in which the house is placed. Thus, when designing and planning houses we have come to think not just of individual dwelling but also of juxtaposition of many houses, and of the services, facilities and structures which support and complement the individual house and make up the residential environment.
A set of specific standards and criteria may not always be applicable. The housing and environmental problems of transitorial urban areas and rural settlements in developing countries like ours, for example, could never be solved by attempting to replace them with dwelling and neighbourhoods confirming to the highest desirable standards. The problem is too big and resources are too small for that sort of approach. Priority must therefore, be given to improving inadequate existing facilities and providing basic utilities and services where none exist. This should be accompanied by machinery for monitoring progress and for enforcing compliance with the stated standards.
The House and the Neighbourhood
Housing and the residential environment provide shelter from the weather, freedom from sources and carriers of disease; security from dangers and nuisances: adequate space for sleeping, preparing and eating food, storage, individual and family privacy, recreation, social and cultural activities; access to places of work, shops and community services; and opportunities for commercial and communal development. In our context the structures may have to be designed to withstand hurricanes, floods, heavy rains and even earthquakes.
Overcrowding may create tensions and affect relationships both within the household and in the neighbourhood. This may be explained by the concept that each human activity has its own "territory", and that when its boundaries are transgressed the individual responsible is an undesirable or distorted way.
Amenities help to turn a collection of houses and families into united community. The aim should be to seek a proper development of the natural environment as well as its protection and conversation. In short, we must plan to improve our housing and prove basic utilities and services throughout Dominica. Standards should be based on an appreciation of our societal needs, cultural characteristics and of existing housing and urban development.
Housing can contribute to the broader purposes of society as a whole, as well as meeting the needs of the individual person and family. Good housing helps to promote social integration since it is a basic human right to which all members of the community are entitled.
Before we look searchingly at the physical aspects of pollution, let us examine a problem that relates to all of us, that is, the matter of attitudes. A basic cause of our current environmental quality problem has been a failure to understand, and to act in recognition of our total relationship between the various components of the physical world we live in. – We lack an environmental ethic!
In the past we have gone about our business, our living, our building and our decision-making, without understanding, much less considering, the impact of these activities on the environment. Above all we have forgotten that our physical world is limited, both in its resources and in its capacity to survive abuse.
Today, mankind is damaging the world and our environment through pollution, through the destruction of our tropical forests, indiscriminate pollution of our rivers and streams, needless depletion of our other resources, through a myriad of other things we do and, above all, by failing to consider the effects our actions.
The longest, single step we can take to correct matters is to build the environment into our consciousness, our ethics and our balance sheets. We must also accept the fact that to achieve our goals it will be necessary to make sacrifices – including financial ones. For instance, commodities produced by factories that have to install pollution abatement equipment, may cost more to make and to produce.
Between the extremes of hopelessness and rosylensed complacency encountered in some public discussion, here is solid ground for believing that we can learn to live in harmony with nature, if we decide to do so.
The pollution crisis is not necessarily a matter of the good guys versus the bad. The root causes are not simply destructiveness, or greed, or even stupidity. Rather, they are the result of single-mindedness, of isolated attention and of a lack of consideration for long-term effects.
The pollution of river by a factory, or pollution of the air by the power generating stations and our automobiles are no intentionally malevolent acts. It is more realistic and useful to define the problem as one of perspective. With a broader perspective, based on better understanding, we will be better equipped to cope with the problem.
Layers of Life
The vast majority of living things exist within a band encircling the earth, extending a few hundred feet above its surface and a foot or so below, referred to as the ‘biosphere'.
The source of energy, and of all life is the sun. Apart from this energy, some meteorites and assorted hardware of the spare age, nothing else enters or leaves this system. In this sense, it can be compared with a space-ship. If life on this planet is to continue, we must pay attention to the purity and availability of clean air, water and land. Pollution of these vital supplies threatens our planet.
Chains and Webs
What exactly is pollution? The answer is complex, and I am not going to hazard a definition. But it is a problem we all can see and smell, and sometimes suffer from. It is now a fact of life. But although it affects man, at times in specific places, the larger environment is still able to take it in its stride – The self-cleaning machinery of air and water is still adequate to the task. But the important question is, how long can this be expected to last. The environment can take much abuse but we can no longer ignore the destructive effects. The symptoms of trouble are beginning to worry us. For, I repeat, we really do not know exactly what the limits are.
It is easy for us Dominicans to take water for granted. We prone to overestimate its abundance, to underestimate its importance, not only to our own survival but as a life support system for life in general.
Water is the universally available necessity. It is the "endlessly" flowing river, the great oceans and lakes, the drink that arrives "free" from stream or faucet.
But water is neither as simple as that, nor as abundant. Pollution of this commodity prevents or hinders its utilization and this equivalent to partial loss of water resources of a country. Conservation of the resource applies both to quantity and quality, and many countries with apparently abundant reserves are learning that water pollution is becoming a liability, because of high costs of treatment and high cost of transportation from places far away from the consumption centres, where water is still unpolluted or less polluted. If water pollution is not too heavy, water can undergo self purification by biological processes, but if it is too polluted this process could be slow and unreliable for practical purposes. The wanton destruction of our forests now taking place is another cause for serious concern, for without adequate forests cover our abundant water supplies will soon be only a memory.
"Pureness" of water, therefore is relative. Understanding this fact is necessary to a realisation of many aspects of water's importance as a support for life.
What Water Pollution Is
Man made and natural pollutants may tend to rob, in different ways, water of its oxygen. A healthy body of water is one with an adequate supply of dissolved oxygen.
Toxic substances from many sources are dangerous to aquatic, and to human life. These substances reach the receiving waters in the waste waters emitted by a cross-section of society – including agriculture, industry and municipal sewerage systems. Persistent chemicals which survive for long periods, present a particularly difficult problem. These include pesticides and herbicides used mainly in agriculture. This arises when pesticides go beyond their intended targets. They reach the water through run-off from cultivated and other land, and also through air drift during aerial spraying operations.
Erosion of soil, due to poor agricultural practices or to construction activity is another source of pollution.
The question of sewerage treatment must not be overlooked. There are many ways to clean sewage and such treatment is one way of reducing damage to receiving waters. These are Physical, Biological and Chemical treatment, all expensive processes.
Solid waste is a mixed bag, it arrives rapidly in style, but leaves slowly and sometimes via primitive methods. New commodities, such as plastics, foodstuffs, industrial raw materials etc., are brought to the user by quick and modern transportation methods. Yet, the collection of refuse often remains a problem.
Except for the introduction of powered vehicles the pick-up and disposal of garbage in Dominica has not changed much for a century. The trash is still, in most cases taken to what is called now, as it was then, "the dump".
There are two common methods of disposing of the waste: burning and landfill. If not efficiently done, burning can contribute to air pollution. If "sanitary landfill" sites are sanitary in name only, they can cause other problems, including pollution of ground water supplies, creation of breeding places for rats, flies and mosquitoes, and generation of large quantities of methane gas. They can also be eyesores. Solid waste pollutes in many ways. An increasing number of automobiles and their parts are retired from service each year, the tonnage of which must be quite considerable.
Some effects of noise of man, such as interference with sleep or speech, or "noise produced" irritation are difficult to define. Noise reduces the accuracy, frequency, and quality of verbal exchange.
From studies untaken in Canada, there is evidence that the hearing acuity of young persons is becoming prematurely reduced and that, possibly, is because of voluntary exposure to music at greatly amplified sound levels. This leads to the speculation that the current population of young people will experience many more serious hearing problems in their middle years than the present group of say 50 to 69 year olds.
An effective response to the challenge of pollution, by whatever cause, depends on a flexible co-operation between Government, Local Authorities and citizens working together in pursuit of common objectives, that is "Comfortable Living in Clean Surroundings".
The Marine Environment
In this "Year of the Environment and Shelter", we should not limit our conception of this idea to just the terrestrial environment. Our surroundings include the vast oceans and water bodies with which we are blessed, as well as the coastline that borders our shores.
Today, our two thousand five hundred fishermen continue to exploit the resources of that particular environment, conscious of the fact that whatever they extract is living and that its existence has to be perpetuated. They can only enjoy the fruits their labour if the marine ecosystem is not abused.
Gone are the days when men thought of the ocean as a vast dumping ground since what was deposited in it seemed to disappear. Our present knowledge of that ecosystem now dictates that we can no longer tolerate such short-sighted notions.
There is the adage that man is his greatest enemy. However, despite that statement, we have to pool our resources and show that we can contribute towards cleaner safer surroundings. We must initiate activities that will bring about a reduction of the amount of pollutants that reach the coastal and marine environment. This does not pertain only to the large amounts of solid waste that are directly released in that environment but the large volume of other pollutants that originate inland and find their way in the coastal and marine environment which cause a greater degree of stress on the ecosystem contained therein.
A short excursion along the coastal zone will show the volume of agro-based and other wastes that litter our shores. This poses a critical hazard to that environment. We have to be more conscious of the fate of these wastes when they leave the immediate locale, and where they end up. What does it profit a nation if one industry's waste poisons another? The time may be at hand when more environmental impact assessment programmes may be required prior to the establishment of industries with particular emphasis on waste disposal. The time has come when my Government's appropriate authorities will have to ensure that environmental standards demanded in industry are adhered to.
Visible waste is only one form of the waste that threaten the marine ecosystem. The large volume of liquid waste in the form of chemicals dissolved in water that reaches the ocean is astonishing. Most of these on reaching the sea are not easily combined with other substances. Some change their chemical properties almost immediately. In fact, in such an environment, I am told, such chemicals are very difficult to be contained, their effects can range from massive destruction of fish stocks, to algae blooms that may lead to eutrophication. All of these are unwarranted.
As far as our marine environment is concerned, natural forces do take their toll on it, particularly in the near shore area. Unlike other more fortunate countries, Dominica is not blessed with a large continental shelf and consequently the resources that persist in such locations are not abundant; the country's fishing activities, over by local fishermen present additional stress to that resource, thus resulting in low yields. To compound that, the areas in question are deprived of any vast quantities of the vital elements such as coral which are conditional for any substantial fisheries that are demersal in nature. To make the situation more critical, the few scattered patches of coral present are very susceptible to any slight changes in the salinity of the ocean. After any heavy down pour of rain and consequent swollen rivers, a large volume of ‘fresh' water with huge amounts of silt in suspension, reaches the ocean. This condition affects marine life and marine surroundings, and is indeed detrimental to the well-being of our few coral reefs. I have heard these referred to as "Gardens of Stone, precious jewels of nature". We must do all we can to preserve this precious resource.
Thus it is clear that a range of natural uncontrollable occurrences are already in place to compound the plight of a very fragile and sensitive marine environment, a consequence which can adversely affect the livelihood of the parties who interact with the resource, and lead to one not being able to provide food and shelter for himself and associates: we should take heed of the words of the world renowned Captain Cousteau, I quote: "Careless pollution of the sea is the beginning of a catastrophic cycle" unquote. Water and air constitute fluid systems, recognizing no natural boundaries.
We must recognize that we inhabit a vast organic system where ecological and economic stability and survival depend on us all. It is therefore our responsibility to launch a massive national awareness campaign about conservation of our environment using television, radio and newspaper advertisements, and all suitable means of information. School children should be a major target, and for good reason. Students will learn, partly through this media blitz, that everything they drop or throw on the ground or in the ocean contributes to the pollution of the environment and causes the surroundings to look the way it does.
Dominica is truly one of the most beautiful islands in the Lesser Antilles. J. W. Thorsell and George Wood in an article captioned "Dominica's Morne Trois Pitons National Park", which appeared in a 1976 issue of "Nature Canada" quoted a botanical authority who wrote: "Nowhere in the American tropics can a better display of the luxuriant rainforest be seen the interior of Dominica", unquote.
Our national parks have been likened to Dominica's crown jewels, repositories of majesty and beauty to be passed from one generation to the next. But it is tragic that in recent years man's greed is destroying our forests – a situation in which progress has become synonymous with destruction of nature and the large scale destruction of these ‘luxuriant majestic ‘rainforests',
- we have witnessed the drying up, as well as the contamination of our rivers and streams;
- through our poor farming practices, we have contributed to the loss of tones of rich top soil every year;
- we have defiled our beaches and communities;
- we have wantonly destroyed our wild life.
The definition of environment is a complex concept, for it concerns the air we breathe, the water we drink, our homes, our methods of agriculture, our health. Indeed, our environment concerns our very life.
A real love of country must be generated if we are to achieve any measure of lasting success. People must be encouraged to reflect upon the situation that surrounds us and to take pride in our natural heritage. They must be taught that our well-being is largely dependent on the survival of our environment. Whenever nature is destroyed, man has suffered. Nature conservation in fact goes much deeper than just ensuring the survival of the endangered flora and fauna. It is fundamental in securing the identity of the country and its people.
We must become much more knowledgeable about our habitat by studying the problems. I can assure you that they are many and complex. Each of us has a role to play – don't throw litter about; don't cut trees needlessly or pollute our waters; and encourage others to take special care of the environment. What I am saying is, custody of the environment is an important responsibility of us all, not only for present development, but for the quality of life for future generations.
We must demonstrate our love and devotion to our communities and our Country. I assure you that co-operation of the people will be a worthy expression of love for our homeland and its natural beauty. It is a God given duty to develop our country and not to exploit it, to enhance its beauty and not to destroy it.
With the united endeavours of the Nation I believe we can meet with confidence the challenges that confront us, and accomplish the tasks that lie ahead. We must place the national good above any sectional interest.
I wish you all success in your endeavours in the year before us, and I implore the Almighty to guide and bless your work.