The shantytown problem
Tragedy hit a Haitian community again last week. This time it was in what is one of the largest Haitian communities in the country — The Mud in Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
A large fire destroyed an estimated 30 homes, leaving many homeless. Luckily, no one died as a result of the fire. It was the third major fire in the shantytown in recent years.
In New Providence, two shantytowns were destroyed by fire since late last year.
Shantytowns are a major problem in The Bahamas.
In 2009, then Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney said that 37 shantytowns had been identified in New Providence alone.
The government has commissioned various studies on the shantytown problem.
A recent report completed by the Department of Environmental Health Services on these so-called Haitian villages warned that they pose a tremendous risk to public health.
With houses having been built too close together, with some homes being powered by stolen electricity connected by low hanging wires, and with large communities with inadequate or no sewerage systems, these shantytowns are public health hazards.
For some reason, especially in New Providence, the agencies of the government responsible for policing this problem have failed.
More aggressive action on this problem is needed for the sake of the Haitians living in shantytowns and for the Bahamians who live nearby.
When proper sanitation and safety protocols are not followed, mass tragedy could ensue from fire or disease. Last week’s fire could have led to the deaths of hundreds.
For the Bahamians who live near shantytowns, their property values are reduced because of the unsanitary communities next door. This is unfair to hardworking, honest citizens of the country.
The problem is, in part, that governments of The Bahamas have been unable to regulate effectively the flow of people from the failed Haitian state. Those looking for a better life have just set up communities on any vacant land.
Once the illegal structures are built, for humanitarian reasons, it is hard to destroy them. Where do you send the poor and stateless once their homes are removed?
We must not let genuine concern for our brothers and sisters from the south to overrule commonsense, however. Illegally built shantytowns need to be removed.
Those migrating to The Bahamas must find legal and safe accommodation. We cannot continue to ignore this problem. It is a matter of law, order and public safety.
No one in this country should be allowed to ignore public health and town planning regulations. The laws exist to keep us safe and to protect property rights.
The government should next move to rigorously enforce the public health and property laws being violated by many who reside in shantytowns across the country.