Vivian Hurtado March 11, 2021 EscúchaMEE
Vivian Hurtado | 22 years old
-Environmental Engineering student at Universidad Rafael Landívar (URL)
– Passionate environmentalist, self-taught person, and love for researching. I concern about environmental education in order to promote the care for nature and recover our sensitivity towards it.
On February 6, the fire occurred at the landfill managed by the Authority for the (Sustainable Management of the Amatitlán Basin and Lake) (AMSA) went viral in the news and social networks, nevertheless different sources point out that it had started a few weeks ago. According to data from (España & Domínguez 2021) and the map obtained from overflights, (The National Coordinating Agency for Disaster Reduction) CONRED confirmed that the affected area is for 1,696 linear meters. CONRED estimates that 1.5 million inhabitants have been indirectly affected by the smoke emanating from the fire. However, AMSA indicates that 886 people living in the Bello Amanecer neighborhood located next to the landfill are directly affected.
The air pollution increased, in consequence many residents of the area and even neighboring towns started to express their discomfort regarding the uncontrolled fire emanating these gases and smoke and caused the fire to get viral and general population to concern.
In order to get a closer look of the incident, we interviewed Josselyn Rivera, who lives in Planes de Bárcenas, another of the neighborhoods next to the dump, she gives us her point of view about the situation.
When did the fire start, have these types of fires happened before?
Garbage had been burning weeks ago; however, the fire began on February 6 around 3-4 in the afternoon. At that time, I started to smell the odor in my house, and I could also see the smoke. I perfectly remember the time because we were about to do something with my best friend and then she sent me a picture, at that moment we thought a house was on fire, but in fact it was the landfill that was on fire. I have lived here for 13 years and I do not remember any fire of that magnitude before.
How did the fire affect your family and other neighbors?
In my opinion, it did affect us. At night, the smoke had increased a lot, we had to close the windows and doors, and even put towels under the doors because the smoke was too much, and it was still coming inside the house. This is not good because when you are exposed to that it starts to be prejudicial to your health, at least my brothers and I, we had a very itchy throat, our eyes were very irritated, and we could not handle it.
On Sunday in the early hours of the morning, my sister got up, she could not sleep because of the smoke. Around 4 o’clock in the morning, the smoke was so heavy, it was like fog and when we got up, we still had sore throat, so we had to go out, we could not be there anymore.
When we came back, we had to open the doors and windows again because the smell was so strong. From my perspective, I noticed that neighbors did not get so alarmed, although I knew that some people came out to protest.
Do you think this was caused or is it directly related to a poor waste management?
I think it is a combination of both, in one hand it was caused, and in the other hand it has also been a bad management….
In front of my house a small plaza construction started with the purpose of open stores. Since the construction started, they moved the landfill in a much lower position than where it was, I believe that because of the construction the landfill could not be there. They will be open around May or April. Garbage had started to be burned before and I think that on Saturday they continued burning and it got out of control due to the methane emissions generated by the garbage itself. We cannot be sure if it was intentional, but we believe it was because of what we have seen, obviously it is also related to the poor management of the landfill.
What are the consequences of this fire for the environment?
One of the main consequences is that a large amount of Greenhouse Gases is being expelled into the atmosphere and this causes many other repercussions such as climate change. In recent years we have experienced even more of these changes and their effects.
How do you think this situation can be handled based on your experience living near the landfill?
I consider that it is very important that the Municipality takes part on it in order to find a solution for Villa Nueva, because this is one of the few authorized landfills, although it has reached its capacity a long time ago, they should get involved and also educate people about a better waste management. A veces puede verse lejano, pero poco a poco y con pequeños pasos se puede lograr. It may seem difficult sometimes, but little by little and with patience it can be achieved. I think we could initiate with residential areas because all starts at home, it would be great if environmental education could be given so in the future not only a small group gets involved but also more and more people. It is also important to make people understand that we can also take advantage of this garbage and that it can even be a benefit for us, to make of this something enjoyable and not only do it for an obligation. Environmental education is the key for a good waste management.
What do you think about the announcement made a couple of days after informing landfill would be closed?
The announcement says that the landfill will be closed, which seems very strange to me because for example, the landfill in zone 3 is still open despite the fact that it has set on fire many more times. There was a huge fire here and a few days later they decided to close it. I consider that the construction of the new plaza had a great influence on this, but that is my opinion, I do not have any exact information. They announced that they are going to move the landfill, I do not know where, but they say that Villa Nueva has about 20 blocks to make a new landfill. However, because of the other areas they might need 30 more blocks to do it. So, they say that by relocating all the garbage they pretend to reforest the area and turn it into an ecological park, but I have no idea where they could move all the garbage to. That is the plan, and I was honestly shocked when I read about it.
After the awful news we received during those days, it is encouraging to see they have intervened, and they have a plan to solve this problem that not only impacts the environment but also the quality of life for the people who live around it.
However, there is still a big difference moving from plan to action there is still. Let us hope that this time a good management can be made and to definitely stop future episodes like this one.
 Authority for the Sustainable Management of the Amatitlán Basin and Lake (AMSA)
España, M. & Domínguez, A. (2021) Incendio en basurero de Amsa afecta a más de un millón de personas. Prensa Libre. Retrieved from: https://www.prensalibre.com/guatemala/comunitario/amsa-pide-ayuda-a-municipalidades-para-sofocar-incendio-en-el-vertedero-breaking/