In Taiwan, citizens turn pollution detectives
Nowadays, Taiwan's forest-covered mountains can hardly be seen through the island's increasingly foetid yellow smog. 50 years of overdrive industrialisation has left the country with such rampant pollution problems that experts, reacting to a recent environmental survey, said that it would take another half century just to clean up. Of course, such a timeframe would only be feasible if future pollution levels dropped dramatically -- meaning either a dramatic about-face by Taiwan's thriving industries, or a sudden strengthening of the country's cash-strapped Environmental Protection Administration (epa). But Taiwan has now struck upon a third option: the democratisation of environmental oversight.
Starting last December, the epa gathered a handful of private citizens -- retired military officials, former public servants, teachers -- and, after arming them with notebooks, binoculars, and digital cameras, sent them out to take note of countrywide waste disposal practices, both large- and small-scale. Although the program was little more than an extremely low-cost pilot project, the community-monitoring program reportedly proved surprisingly successful, leading authorities to bust several companies involved in illegal toxic dumping. Buoyed by those successes, officials have now gone on a more extensive recruiting drive, strengthening the ranks to around 70 eco-spies.
Still, of the estimated 20 million tonnes of industrial waste to be produced next year by the country's factories, up to 25 per cent will expectedly be disposed improperly. Now that community input has been officially incorporated, however, even as the government temporarily redoubles its focus on suspected polluters, the eyes of the new volunteer detectives will linger long after the official workday ends.
Since the new anti-pollution brigade comprises fisherfolk, shop owners and others familiar with the communities they are monitoring, the effects of the new program are already being noted by worried industry owners. "These volunteers have a tendency to report everything they see," complains a chemical factory owner, "This has the potential to disrupt business operations."
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.