Jamaican Access Triumph Concerning 25 Years of Sewage Runoff
Jul 27, 2010

In the July 6, 2010 decision”. of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Jamaica, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)”. and a group of residents of Harbour View filed a Judicial Review Action regarding the failure of two governmental agencies; The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and The Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, to take action against the National Water Commission (NWC) concerning poor regulation of sanitation disposal in Jamaica. For years environmentalists have lambasted the NWC for polluting the city’s harbor. Studies have shown that at least 20 million gallons of untreated sewage is discharged into the harbour daily, in addition to 1.5 million tons of solid matter which have placed the marine life at risk. Although numerous attempts had been made to address the problem, the July 6th ruling successfully found the NWC in non-performance of its statutory duties regarding the prevention of untreated sewage flow into the sea. This landmark decision is significant because it ruled that both the NEPA and the Health Department failed to take any action against the NWC after more than 25 years of sewage discharge which resulted in significant environmental degradation of the sea, land, and beach of Jamaica.

The plaintiffs (JET and Harbour View residents) sought reparations from the NWC in the form of maintenance of an interim sewage collection treatment facility and the construction of a new facility. This action is particularly significant considering it was the foremost attempt to hold a government agency accountable for its lack of adherence to statutory duties as a means to compensate for over two decades of improper sewage disposal. This Judicial Review Action constitutes significant progress in Access to Justice for Jamaican citizens who had been adversely affected by the deficient regulation of sewage treatment facilities as well as a lack of Governmental accountability in admonishing subsidiary governmental facilities. A recent report disseminated by the NEPA claims that “untreated sewage poses a serious threat to groundwater and to the health of residents in the area”, and that the NWC must correct the situation and rehabilitate the land affected by the overflow effective immediately. This win marks a 10 million dollar (the amount needed to build a modern plant in Harbour View) triumph in accountability and access initiatives within Jamaica, and sets a precedent for those citizens and organizations afraid to confront governmental agencies across the globe.

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