Last week I got really annoyed so I decided to write this article for my column in this week’s Gulf Weekly edition.
You wanna know why I got annoyed? Read on to find out… and more photos too!
Why I can’t breathe
A friend once asked me, “Why do you need to detox, you’re already detoxing with all that fresh air in your area!” It’s true, but…
I live in the ‘rural’ area of Bahrain (Hamala/Jasra). Every morning, I wake up early to take my kids to school. I look out the window, and the day looks crisp and fresh with a beautiful morning fog and birds chirping.
I step out of my house, take a deep breath… and my lungs are filled with smoke!
Why? Because the farmlands around the area choose to get rid of their waste by burning it.
The fires give out a horrible burned smell and lots of smoke. It’s worse on a still day when there isn’t enough breeze to move it. Even when the doors and windows in the house are closed, it seeps into the house through unsealed window frames and even AC vents. It’s horrible that you can’t open the window to get clean air.
So, as we drive to school in the morning, we see a beautiful sky tainted with a long line of smoke coming from these farmlands.
It’s horrible for the country and the environment and it’s especially bad for our health!
Is it legal?
I once saw an article in the local paper saying that this burning is illegal and that people who burn trash will be penalised. But where are they? How do I know who’s burning when all I can see is the smoke coming from several lands down the road. And who is implementing that law anyway? Should I be the police in the area and hunt these people down?
Maybe I will…
A few months ago, I was driving out of our compound and saw a big pile of rubbish set on fire on the side of the street. There was a guy next to it, apparently very proud of his achievement. So I drove into the sandy street shoulder and called him, opening my window. I can tell he was getting nervous as he ran towards my car. I told him that the fire he has going was against the law. He looked blank, and I realised he couldn’t speak neither Arabic nor English. So I simplified my sentence and pointed at the smoke and my nose to explain that the smell is bad and then I said ‘police’ twirling my finger up in circles, to signify the police siren. He got it, apologised profusely, and ran to put the fire out.
That’s one farm at least. I wish I could say that I knew this would solve the problem. It just made me feel better at least for that day.
Where are the environmentalists?
Later that day I decided to call a lady from Bahrain’s Friends of the Environment Society. She gave me an earth-shattering piece of information. Apparently, in Bahrain this is against the law and there’s an environmental hotline that you can call to complain!
So I took down the number and waited for the next episode of smoke (which didn’t take that long to occur) and I called the hotline on their Bahrain Hotline number +973 17 785 659.
I was amazed. They were very professional. And it’s a 24 hour hotline!
The guy listened to my problem and made sure to drive to my area the same day and check out the problem. Furthermore, I started calling him every time there’s a burning smell and he would come himself to try and find the culprits. He said he will keep doing that until we find them, one farm at a time!
“Finally, my prayers were answered!!” I thought.
I was (and still am) so proud of Bahrain for having an ENVIRONMENTAL HOTLINE! If you ever see anything unfriendly to the environment, you have to call them immediately +973 17 785 659.
Spoke too soon
In Arabic there’s a saying that can roughly be translated as ‘a happiness that wasn’t completed’. That saying is perfect for what happened next.
After a few weeks of working with the people from the Environmental Hotline, I realized that they decided that the case was a matter that I needed to take up myself with the municipality. Apparently, they can only report it to the municipality, and the matter stays there until they decide where they want to go with it.
“But it’s illegal, and they’re doing it on a daily basis,” I exclaimed.
“I understand, and I agree with you, but this is about as far as we can go with it,” he replied kindly.
“You’re telling me that the environment is being tarnished on a daily basis and we have to sit quietly and watch? My children have to inhale this smoke every day because no one is bothering to do anything about it?” I asked desperately.
“A good thing for you to do is present this topic to the member of the municipal council of your area and ask him to campaign for it. They’re usually good like that. I would also suggest that every time you see a fire of such sort, take a picture of it and jot down what street it was on. It will strengthen you case,” he replied.
I’m going ahead. Are you with me?
I tried calling our member of the municipal council but so far have not been able to get through.
For now, I have my camera with me at all times. Wherever I see smoke, I drive down to the place, get out of my car and take a picture. Then I speak to whoever is there and I tell them that what they’re doing is illegal. Most of the time, they don’t know that it’s illegal and they obligingly put the fire out.
I have taken dozens of photos so far (like the ones you see on this blog), but I need more! I am creating a portfolio of photos to build my case.
If you would like to contribute to solving this issue, please drive around your area and take pictures of any farm (trash) fires that you see. Then, jot down the name of the street and the area it was taken in and send it to email@example.com. If you are a land owner, please make sure your staff are fully aware that burning trash is illegal and damaging to health and the environment, and let them know what they can do with it instead. Any other suggestions are welcome.
I want to have the option to breathe fresh, clean air at all times. Don’t you?
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