Activists worried about New Year fireworks


Fireworks light up the sky over the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain as part of Independence Day celebrations last year. – Jeff Mayers

While at least one fireworks company reported “bumper” firework sales on Boxing Day, animal welfare groups and activists are expressing fear and concern about the effects that fireworks will have on people and animals in Trinidad and Tobago.

There are several laws dealing with fireworks and how they are to be handled. The Summary Offences Act Chapter 11:02, Section 99, states “any person who throws, casts, sets fire to, or lets off any fireworks within any town is liable to a fine of $1,000.”

The Explosives Act Chapter 16:02 Section 10. (1) says “No person other than a wholesale or retail dealer shall sell gunpowder, or offer or expose the same for sale”, while Section 10. (2) states: “Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section is liable to a fine of $2,000.”

The Explosives (Prohibition of Scratch Bombs) Order 2018 prohibits people from manufacturing, importing, keeping, conveying, or selling a scratch bomb. Anyone breaching the order may be liable on indictment to a fine of $20,000, or ten years’ imprisonment or forfeiture of the items.

Notwithstanding all these laws, fireworks are routinely set off in residential areas for major public holidays and festive occasions.

The elderly, people with respiratory conditions, and babies are adversely affected by the fireworks. There are reports of lost, injured and dead pets and animals after every such occasion, and in 2019 a red kangaroo at the Emperor Valley Zoo died after Independence Day celebrations.

Newsday columnist and animal rescuer Elspeth Duncan said, “Every time days of national celebration roll around, a large sector of the TT population is held captive by the noise and the experience of witnessing the untold trauma that fireworks cause animals and, in some cases, humans.

“Year after year many groups call for regulation and nothing has been done. So many people feel helpless about this. Many of us are not looking forward to the end of this year, when people go wild on the explosions, saying goodbye to 2020.”

Chairman of the TTSPCA Council Sita Kuruvilla said the organisation was totally against fireworks being in the hands of the public.

“Every year we beg for them to be taken away.

“The fireworks are set off arbitrarily in breach of what is in the law. Those regulations are written in a way that is extremely difficult to be policed.

“Our position is that the time for fireworks has passed, it is unacceptable.”

She said there is no government support to assist with the problem, as the corporations do not have a dog-control system in place.

“A lot of animals get lost and become strays, are injured or may starve. It means the stray population increases, or animal welfare groups take on the additional burden.

“There are people making money from fireworks, but we, the NGOs, have to bear the burden of the work that it creates when frightened animals run away and/or are injured.

“It also impinges on the social lives of people with pets, as they cannot socialise on these major occasions.”

El Socorro Wildlife Foundation co-founder Ricardo Meade said wildlife is also affected by fireworks. He said this would be especially acute this year, as many animals would have moved closer to humans during the covid19 period.

“The fireworks could disrupt their nesting, and you could see abandonment of nests and homes by some animals. Some animals will die because when the sound goes off they will literally abandon their young out of fear for their own lives, and then you will have more orphaned animals: little birds nesting right around your home, the doves, the blue jays, the mockingbirds, all the way to deer and agouti. A lot of animals will abandon their young because of the noise level and the fear that it creates, so we need to be mindful of this when we discharge fireworks.”

Roger Marshall of Animals 360 Foundation said the organisation was devastated by the government’s lack of action . He said despite heavy lobbying over the last few years, nothing has been done to ease the harm to people and the environment.

“We’re not calling for a ban, but it could be managed. We could legislate the days and events on which fireworks could be launched.

“Fireworks should absolutely not be permitted in residential areas, we need to identify parks where people could enjoy fireworks under proper supervision.”

The activists called for action on the recommendations in a report by a joint select committee after an inquiry into the adverse health effects of fireworks, which was laid in Parliament in 2018.

Kuruvilla reminded pet owners that they should keep them safe and secure over this period. She said dogs especially should not be chained, as they can strangle themselves, and owners should make sure their pets have some form of ID in case they get loose.

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