October 22, 2020

Untreated waste drowns the paradisiacal Colombian island of San Andres

On the beaches of San Andres Island, a paradise of Colombia in the Caribbean, the waves return plastic bottles, flip flops, cutlery and single-use glasses that cover the sand as evidence that something is wrong.

Every year 25,000 tons of waste accumulate on this island, the main one of the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, in whose surrounding waters is the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which since 2000 is part of the global network of systems protected by UNESCO.

The garbage, generated by a tourist industry that serves 1.3 million visitors per year and its 85,000 inhabitants, has led to the environmental collapse of San Andrés, an overcrowded territory of 26 square kilometers.

“The problem of plastic is serious. We have no mechanisms for the removal of solid waste and all the waste generated in San Andres stays in San Andres,” Roberto Hudgson, deputy director of Environmental Management of Coralina, a public body that explained to Efe watch over the environment in the archipelago.

Hudgson added: “With such a small island we don’t have enough space. For now all solid waste that is recycled is taken to the municipal dump, the ‘Magic Garden’, although those that are not recycled end up at sea.”


The municipal garbage dump is the reverse of paradise, an island with turquoise beaches and an indigenous culture that the native roots of the island, with English and African ancestry and their own language, Creole, keep alive in the popular neighborhoods.

Lizeth Arigan used to go out with his brothers to look for mango trees and have fun in a wooded area near his home, in the Schooner Bight sector, in the south of the island away from the center where the hotels are concentrated, an image that no longer they have

From the backyard of his childhood there are now two colossal mountains of garbage: they belong to the ‘Magic Garden’, the name of the municipal landfill that sounds like irony.

The landfill works in the open and when approaching its rear, the only way to observe it without accessing the interior, the skin begins to itch and the smell of exposed waste contaminates the air.

“The trees do not produce as before, around the pollution is strong. One can no longer leave the house and come to look for mangoes or mamons, our children do not have that opportunity,” explains Efe Arigan, 31, who grew up at same time as the landfill, built 35 years ago.


Arigan lives ten minutes from the ‘Magic Garden’ with his mother and siblings, who have denounced their harmful effects in the neighborhood for years. “It’s a time bomb,” Lizeth’s mother, Rosaina Forbes, tells Efe in the hall of her house.

The local press has been reporting for years on the fires in the landfill: “Sometimes that ignites and releases very strong fumes, when that happens relocate some neighbors a few days in shelters in other parts of the island for respiratory problems”, regrets Forbes.

The woman explains that she has also found herself in the house “with giant rats, with flies and mosquitoes that come from there” and warns of an increase in diseases: “A few months ago I had some skin flares, I was infected , but children suffer from fevers, infections … “

The landfill also affected the supply of water, scarce on the island, because before the locals had “a channel that supplied us with rainwater but now the smoke that gives that when it turns on reaches the roof of the house and we can not pick it up, we it’s time to buy it. “


In 2002 the Ombudsman issued a resolution on the ‘Magic Garden’ in which he warned of “the lack of political will, local and departmental, to achieve environmental management that allows to restore and maintain the ecological balance of the island of San Andres “.

One of the measures taken to solve the problem was the acquisition in 2011 of an expensive power generation plant from the incineration of solid waste from the ‘Magic Garden’ which, however, has been inactive since then, he told Efe or Hudgson.

Meanwhile, the authorities stress the useful life of the landfill that, according to the Ministry of Public Services of the archipelago, is projected “in about three years” thanks to “new designs and modifications.”


Faced with the environmental emergency, the Arigan family and their neighborhood friends created the Schooner Night Ethnic Association that trained 12 young people to condition a plant where they separate, compact and crush waste they collect when visiting 30 hotels and touring neighborhoods on the island.

“Of the 80 tons that accumulate in the dump, 40% is usable” and the association “only prevents 1% of the waste going to stop there,” said Arigan.

Ares Biescas Rué


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