photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “My wife and I decided to sleep elsewhere with our three kids last night. The smoke was unbearable”, says Sint Maarten resident Alston Lourens. Lourens lives in Philipsburg, the capital of Sint Maarten. Just a little over a kilometer away is the island’s garbage dump, which caught on fire five days ago.

The recent fires at the dumpsite are not the first Sint Maarten has dealt with. “One year we had eighteen fires and another year we had nineteen fires”, Lourens says.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

The ‘dump’
Sint Maarten does not have a proper waste management system. The ‘dump’ started decades ago, as a temporary dumping location for the island’s solid waste. Another solution was never implemented, and today the dump, at first glance, looks like another hill on the island. Lourens: “We should’ve solved this problem a long time ago.”

Headaches and pains
“My eyes burn, my throat burns”, gestures Clive Armond, says who has been working in Philipsburg despite the constant smoke.

The Nature Foundation will hand out an additional 350 masks to the public today, with donations they have received since the fire. “Although we believe that the relevant authorities should take up the responsibility of handing out masks to the population we have again taken the initiative to make masks freely available at a first come first serve basis,” says Tadzio Berviets, manager of The Nature Foundation.

“We have been fighting for a new hospital, yet these fires, which are a danger to everyone’s health, have been going on for over ten years,” comments Lourens exasperatedly.

From the main cruise-ship port, the dump is easily seen. Photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

Not a good look
“I have had to cancel all my tours in Philipsburg this week,” Juan Pablo Piscione, who owns a tour-company, explains. From the main cruise-ship port, the dump is easily seen.“It’s not a good look for the island,” comments Juliana Davis, a cruise ship passenger visiting the island.

Due to the toxic smoke, the government administration building, schools, and other facilities have been closed since Monday. Relevant authorities are still investigating the fires, which some suspect were started by arson.

On Wednesday, members of parliament discussed the fire. Minister of VSA, Mr. Emil Lee pointed out during the meeting that the current flawed management contract stands at the root of the garbage fires. The contract was renewed in December 2017.