A container-load of rotten meat in plastic wrappers dumped off Tongatapu’s scenic cliffs at Makeke yesterday, with the knowledge of the Ministry of Health, left a trail of stinking sausages on the lookout area, foul plastic strewn down the cliff face and a sea of brown boxes and plastic bags washing against the coastline.
Dumping continues at the liku as the owners of condemned foods are avoiding the destruction fees at the modern Tapuhia waste management facility.
“It’s a beautiful spot, one of the most scenic spots on the coastline, but we were really shocked to see the dumping,” said Helen Mountfort, a New Zealander, who is on holiday in Tonga with her partner. They drove to the look-out point near Hufangalupe yesterday while they were looking for a place to swim.
Breath-taken by the stench, the visitor photographed the boxes of rotten meat floating down the sunset coast. “We had to cover our faces, it was smelling really awful,” she said.
Helen said that they knew something was wrong when they were driving down the track toward the liku and they had to pull over for a convoy of about six or seven vehicles coming the other way out of the area. “There were men in quarantine suits wearing facemasks and hoods, a tractor and a cargo truck carrying a container and a Ministry of Health van,” she said. Following the convoy was a man with an army bag, a facemask and a machete.
“I got a hell of a fright. If you were in any other country and came across something like this you could be seriously at risk, because you might have witnessed something against the law,” she said.
Helen is an experienced traveller in her job as a project manager working on climate issues for the Overseas Development Institute in London, taking her to countries in Africa and Central Asia.
“It was horrific to see the food and plastic down the cliff, and this spot used as a dumping ground. In many countries this kind of environmental dumping is a crime,” she said. “I was shocked that a government ministry was overseeing dumping of plastics into the ocean and that they had no vision of what the implications are for that in the future.
“What about the villages who have to put up with the smell? What about the eyesore? What about the fisheries and the long term consequences of using this beautiful spot as a dumping ground?” she asked.
Helen said the most disturbing part was the lasting impact of the dumping in the ocean for the next 20 years.
“There appears to be absolutely no accountability or consequence in doing that. Obviously, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health are not talking to each other!” she said.
A Ministry of Health inspector confirmed today that they knew about the dumping yesterday and they knew who the owner was but could not release the name. They believed that the Health Act of 2008 gave them the authority over food and said that any queries about the dump should be made in writing to their CEO. The Health Act gives Health inspectors the power to remove or reduce public health risks.
However, a spokesperson for the Tonga Waste Authority Ltd., a public enterprise, mandated to manage waste disposal in Tongatapu, and to keep Tonga “clean, green and healthy” said that it is in fact the Waste Authority who has the authority to destroy all waste under the Waste Management Acts of 2005 and 2009.
“In matters like that involving commercial waste, it’s the Ministry of Health who is responsible for telling people to abandon selling products. But in order to dispose of it, the owner is to give the condemned products to the Waste Authority.”
The spokesperson said that their Tapuhia waste management facility would charge around $700 to destroy a container of food products.
“The responsibility of the Ministry of Health is that they have to be there to see that it’s destroyed, but the Waste Authority has the authority to destroy everything,” he said.
The spot has previously been used by commercial dumpers. See Rotten chicken fouls scenic coast