A group of residents has gathered a team of high-powered lawyers and scientists in preparation for a legal battle with the West Indies Alumina Company (WINDALCO), located in the Ewarton area of St Catherine.
The group, which is accusing the bauxite and alumina company of severely affecting their health and livelihood with its effluent, is to be represented by Knight Junior and Samuels – the law firm operated by K.D Knight, John Junor and Bert Samuels.
Professor Winston Davidson, a renowned scientist who heads the University of Technology School of Public Health and Health Technology, has thrown his support behind the legal push.
He, along with other experts and residents, participated in the first community meeting last evening, November 7, at Charlemont Open Bible Church in Linstead, St Catherine.
Professor Davidson, who made a presentation on the issue of pollution and public health, told residents: “I am declaring that I support your cause and, whatever technical support you need, I can be called upon – and also to be able to mobilize my school of public health, which is the best public health school in the Caribbean.
“I can mobilize the human resources to do the necessary research or test to give you the evidence that you are going to need to tackle this problem, because you can’t tackle this problem by hearsay. We in science and public health say, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist…” Professor Davidson further declared.
He lamented that, after umpteen years, the authorities have not done enough to minimize the effect of pollution of the air, water and soil on which people depend for survival.
“We know that this problem has existed for a long time, but we also know that time has come to take some action,” added the professor, who also is a former Deputy Minister of Health.
The instructing attorney, Charles Ganga-Singh, in the meantime, underscored the importance of gathering strong evidence.
“For us to win any case in the court – whether individually or in the form of a class suit, we need medical evidence to prove, and we have the best person in my opinion to assist us – Professor Davidson,” Ganga-Singh told the gathering. He is being assisted by Crystal Gordon who will soon be called to the bar.
A number of residents, in the meantime, used the meeting to openly explain how they think WINDALCO’s operation has affected their environment, their health and their livelihood. They will assist the experts with evidence.
The residents’ efforts are being coordinated by community activists Hopeton Henry and Kestonard Gordon.
Gordon stated that he took up the mantle when, en route to his farm, he recently stumbled upon a protest by residents of Kent Village in the Bog Walk area of St Catherine.
He explained that he mustered the courage and intervened at the scene of the protest – making a successful appeal for irate residents to clear a roadblock for an ambulance to pass.
“That was how it started,” Gordon said. “I took on the challenge to represent the people at that scene [of the protest], and it has carried me into their minds [and] their experiences.”
Gordon further stated that the existing group will reach out to other residents affected by WINDALCO’s release of effluent.
The areas targeted include Ewarton, Linstead, Bog Walk, Kent Village, Irish Pen, Job Lane, Tredegar Park, and Tawes Pen.
“We have an obligation to ensure that we do not leave this mess on our children, because they are gonna call us some names that we may not like – although we may not hear them…,” Gordon trumpeted.
He compared the mission to the biblical story of Moses leading God’s people out of bondage.
“Good things are in store for you residents and, like the children of Israel, we are here with our rod and we are saying that the people of God must go now!” added Gordon, who also is Vice-Chairman of the St. Catherine Parish Development Committee.
He, in the meantime, underscored the importance of the group remaining unified and prepared for the fight regardless of how long or complex it may be.
By Horace Mills, Journalist; B.A degree in Media and Communications; CARIMAC, University of the West Indies
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