HUMAN rights trump business rights when it comes to public health, especially when children are involved, Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides said Friday in a report she issued slamming the continued operation of two asphalt plants in Dali which residents have been protesting against for years.
Parents and teachers have consistently protested against the two plants, which are near the local school attended by hundreds of children. Earlier this year around 70 per cent of parents signed a petition to have the plants removed, and some have asked, along with a number of teachers, that their children be transferred to other schools.
Lottides in a lengthy report, issued after a complaint filed with her office by the Movement for the Improvement of the Quality of Life, on Friday said: “When specific financial/business activities are to the detriment of human rights, even for a small group of people, and especially when it includes children, the protection of their rights should be a priority.”
She also slammed local authorities for not taking any action, especially as one of the two plants does not have the proper operational licence, yet nothing has been done to correct the problem.
This not only potentially harms public health but violates the public’s right to health, life, private life and property, she said.
“The consequence of this omission by the local authorities is the continued restriction of the enjoyment of the right to life and health and in particular the right to life in a safe and healthy environment, both for residents, students and staff at the school,” she added.
Regarding the action needed, Lottides called on the ministries and local authorities involved to immediately stop this nuisance through top-level decisions. Though she acknowledged that the plants were a vital vein of economic activity, their operation should not outweigh public health.
Action to have the plant moved needs to happen as soon as possible and works to that end need to be accelerated, the ombudswoman said. The municipalities of Tseri and Geri, within which the plants lie, need to take the necessary steps to stop the pollution of the Dali community and “in this way, protecting the children’s rights to healthy and clean air, during their time at school”.
Lottides said there needs to be better monitoring on building plants in industrial zones along with the effects on the public’s wellbeing in neighbouring residential areas.
Commenting on a study on environmental consequences in the area, she said this should be the basis for necessary measures to move the asphalt plants.
She also called on the labour inspection department to take steps to reform the air pollution law, to necessitate that asphalt plants have a licence for waste emissions, along with devices to measure the pollutants.
In April during the coronavirus lockdown, Dali community leader Leontios Kallenos said residents were ending up self-isolating amid additional air pollution from the plants and asked for their closure. He requested a meeting with the president.
Despite the decree to temporarily close all businesses, the two asphalt plants located nearby remain active, causing pollution during a period when residents needed to stay at home.
According to Kallenos, around 6,000 people were breathing in fumes while in self-isolation.
Before the lockdown, teachers’ union Poed along with teachers from Dali primary school visited the police station in Pera Chorio to report the intense air pollution.
Some 444 students attend Dali primary school while 125 children attend the nursery school next door.