Sunday, April 14, 2024



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Not for the first time, the well intentioned Minister of Health has been talking tough and promising action.
Last year he came out with this clarion call:
“Let’s roll up our sleeves, think outside of the box and find sustainable solutions which will see us satisfactorily addressing the health needs of our citizens.”
A whopping $32 million would be spent by the Ministry of Health on primary health care services. It must be more this year.
I wrote in Swan And Smoke: “Words full of energy, encouragement and enthusiasm signifying little while, daily, across this island smoke gets in your lungs. Your eyes, too!”
Hear the same minister in March 2012, now a year later: “We cannot continue to invest more on asthma wards at our facilities as opposed to deploying resources to address part of the root cause . . . . These are serious issues,” he thundered, “that I do not intend to spend the rest of my political career talking about.”
I’m tempted to say: Minister, I’ve heard that song before.
He went on: “So I wish to send a strong warning to those whose vehicle exhaust systems need to be fixed and to those who like to draw a match to burn their garbage on their properties . . . . Your days are numbered!”
I think the minister is likely to be more successful in dealing with the rampant burning of stuff than the fixing of exhaust systems. Indeed, the latter challenge goes a lot further than the tuning of engines . . . if what Prime Minister Freundel Stuart revealed a year ago is accurate – and there is no reason to doubt him.
Speaking at the official opening ceremony of the “Green” Maintenance Facility of the Barbados National Oil Company Limited (BNOCL), Mr Stuart, in seeking to clear the air about some misconceptions that had surfaced concerning the way in which the BNOCL purchased fuel for the country, told those gathered that, based on the information available to him, he was satisfied that the board and management of the BNOCL had “not been gambling” with the prices Barbados paid for fuel.
Now here is the problem:
The Prime Minister said that Government had instructed the BNOCL to examine the feasibility of importing the low-sulphur product, which would help to reduce the level of harmful emissions into the environment.
The oil company had begun to look into the matter, but there were several challenges to be addressed to effect the change from high-sulphur diesel.
First, neither BNOCL nor the gas stations had the infrastructure to carry both high-sulphur and low-sulphur diesel, and so they would both have had to build additional infrastructure to do so. If they were to provide this infrastructure – which would cost a great deal – BNOCL would have had to source the low-sulphur diesel outside of its traditional CARICOM supplier.
The Prime Minister further explained that the low-sulphur diesel would cost more per gallon at source and, together with the costs of shipping the small amount that Barbados needed, would cost more per gallon than the high-sulphur product.
The Government would like to import only the low-sulphur product and while there are environmental benefits to be derived, he said that they would have to compare “all the incremental costs and logistics” before making the decision on a complete shift to the low-sulphur product.
Précis the last five paragraphs and this is what you will get: to breathe cleaner air, it will cost more to import low-sulphur diesel.
The problem therefore is not just “fixing exhaust systems”; it’s about the fuel we import. The Prime Minister has already made that clear, so why is the Minister of Health holding out hope?
With any luck, he might achieve something concerning the burning of stuff.
If we want cleaner vehicle emissions, we will have to import more expensive fuel. That’s not going to happen any time soon.


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