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How can we make the road cleaning programme more meaningful?

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Tue, Dec 4, 2012

The annual cleaning of roads and drains for the Christmas season has begun, much to the comfort of those unskilled temporary workers involved. For them, the occasional cleaning programme organized by the Government is a welcome relief, for it provides an income, small and fleeting though it might be. Given our traditional emphasis on Christmas, the income thus derived allows poor families to at least obtain some essentials for the period.{{more}}

Significantly, the composition of the road gangs has been, over the years, becoming more feminised. Today, not only is there a high proportion of women involved in the cleaning efforts, but they engage in most tasks, quite different from the early days when they were employed solely to perform “lighter” tasks. There are a range of social factors which account for this, among them the growing reluctance of young men to engage in tasks they consider menial and low-paid. But it is heart-warming to see young mothers, prepared to contribute sweat and toil towards providing for their families and not just prepared to beg for handouts.

There are economic benefits from such clean-up programmes as well. In the first place, they represent an injection by the Government of a sum, which, while not large in absolute terms, helps in stimulating the sluggish economy. It is an open secret that most of the money paid out to the workers will find itself into the consumer economy, for the payment of goods and services. The private sector is certainly looking forward to benefitting from this.

But there are wider benefits as well, chiefly in relation to the environment. In particular, the maintenance of proper drainage can save government substantial sums which may have to be expended to repair roads which may have been damaged from water, which runs over as a result of blocked drains or roadsides not adequately maintained. There is also the health benefit, for the road cleaning exercise contributes towards a more healthy atmosphere and the control of insects and pests, possible hosts of harmful diseases. It is a pity that on a national scale, we are not more consistent in this regard.

We would like to make a few humble suggestions for improving such programmes. First, it is important to go beyond the traditional view of such operations as “Christmas work” for which the Government must be praised. As we have indicated here, it is much more than that. The programme will be of much greater relevance if it can be accompanied by an awareness drive about the importance of maintaining our surroundings in a healthy manner. This should be aimed not just at the workers involved, many of whom do not grasp the significance beyond the income earned, but at the wider community as well.

The connections with the wider community and developing a sense of social responsibility ought to be one of the outcomes desired from such efforts. There is far too much social irresponsibility practised by us all in regard to our environment and how we maintain it. Right after drains are cleared, citizens dump all kinds of garbage in them, and the roads cleaned this week for the Christmas season would already be needing attention by the time the “Big Day” comes around. Sometimes too, the trucks contracted to pick up the debris left at the side of the road and take it to the landfill wait far to long to do so, resulting in much of the waste going back into the drains, making the situation worse.

Finally, what can be done on an organized basis to raise the skill level of those regularly involved in such cleaning programmes? How can the Adult Education and Skills Training Units become involved? Is there a role for the Ministry of Health and the Environment?

Such approaches can only help to enhance the value of our clean-up exercises.

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