Industrial waste, household rubbish threat to Wailada’s marine ecosystem
By ROSELYN BALI and PATRICK LESTRO
Opposition Member of Parliament, Lenora Qereqeretabua, and Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary Reverend James Bhagwan are also encouraging industries and communities to take civic pride in the environment and maintain a clean upkeep of the surrounding areas. Two prominent figures in Fiji have joined the fight against pollution and littering in the greater Suva area, after witnessing piles of rubbish being dumped irresponsibly into the Wailada River in Lami.
The two are part of the Suva SUPers stand-up paddling club that engages in community clean-up campaigns in the area.
Qereqeretabua said the group were stunned by the amount and variety of rubbish that they pulled out from the Wailada River and its banks during their clean-up last year.
“While paddling up the Wailada River, we noticed very clearly that some businesses were not being careful with their waste, while others were practicing proper waste management,” she said.
“The kind of rubbish we saw and picked up ranged from parts of a bus to sacks of rubbish that would have come from households further up the river.
“There were laundry baskets, items of clothing such as children’s clothing, used diapers and just a whole range of rubbish.”
Qereqeretabua said the onus was on individuals to also teach each other and their children the importance of disposing rubbish in a responsible manner rather than throwing food packs on the side of the road or in the river.
Reverend Bhagwan shared similar sentiments about his involvement in the clean-up campaigns of the Lami foreshore and Wailada River.
“The situation at Wailada is quite distressing. One of the issues of concern is that the industrial waste is improperly disposed. These were non-biodegradable and appeared toxic. Another issue of concern is rural waste disposal in areas that are not covered under the town boundary.”
Rev Bhagwan said those areas needed proper rubbish disposal facilities and urged communities and businesses to pay attention to these environmental hazards.
“There is also a need for active surveillance,” Bhagwan said.
The Wailada industrial area comprises 16 per cent of land use and a mix of light industries such as food processing and manufacture, and heavy industries such as paint manufacture and chemical processing.
According to a 2013 climate change vulnerability assessment of Lami Town by the UN Habitat and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), there is still land earmarked for industrial development, however, this remains undeveloped to date.
About 74 per cent of Lami’s land area is used for residential space and this includes informal settlements and formal settlements located in upland areas.
The report noted that much of Lami’s industrial area is located on reclaimed mangrove swamps, low-lying in nature and prone also to flooding take it higher up.
The Wailada industrial area contributes a significant amount of economic activity for Lami, the report stated.
But this is at a heavy cost to the environment. The UN Habitat/UNEP 2013 report noted that improper waste disposal by Wailada residents into the Lami River also contributed to flooding in the area through increased siltation and river bank erosion.
The sight of rubbish floating in Wailada River has greeted people for years as they enter Lami Town, to the point that it has been normalised.
People hardly seem to care about the issue, and carry on as usual. Perhaps people have given up since it has been a persistent problem for many years, with no noticeable solution in sight.
Lami resident Adi Danford attests to the problem when it is brought to her attention. She crosses the Lami Bridge daily on her way to Suva.
She says it is not just the industrial waste, but household rubbish that is dumped into the Wailada River and flows out to sea.
“The Wailada industrial area is close to the Lami shopping centre and one cannot help but notice the smell from the waste. When you look over the Wailada bridge, you see a lot of rubbish — plastic bags, diapers, old refrigerators even.
“Some people fish in that area even though it is dangerous to consume food from these polluted waterways,” she said.
For Danford, it is a tragedy that the once pristine and abundant Wailada River has been turned into a rubbish dump.
It reached such a point that in 2015, the Department of Environment launched a national ‘Name and Shame’ campaign to deter people from littering.
It followed local media reports that highlighted the ongoing problem. The Environment Department embarked on a two-phase programme to charge those caught littering.
However, some companies were undeterred by the campaign. In September 2020, the Fiji Sun ran a video on its Facebook page showing ‘fat discharge with a foul smell’ into the river from a nearby food processing company.
The Environment Department stepped in to issue a prohibition notice to the company. It is unclear whether the company was charged and taken to court.
Youth groups like Haharagi ne Rotuma took it upon themselves to fill as many garbage bags as they could with industrial waste and household rubbish that settled at river mouth during a clean-up campaign in August last year.
Organiser Mark-Anthony Faiva said they wanted to give back to the community and do their part in keeping the surrounding environment in Wailada and Lami clean.
“Last year, we filled at least 50 garbage bags of rubbish and waste from the area and we hope to continue similar efforts moving forward,” he said.
The Ministry of Environment and Waterways permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe confirmed that two companies had been taken to task for breaching the Environment Management Act in the case of the improper disposal of waste in the Wailada River. He said stop work orders and prohibition notices were issued to companies that breached laws and policies.
Various awareness, education and campaigns have seemingly failed to make an impact, although the major problem is considered to be insufficient waste disposal management for the densely populated area.