Getting serious about shanty towns
The Nassau Guardian Editorial
Nassau, The Bahamas
As we have repeatedly pointed out, shanty towns are a major problem in The Bahamas.
In 2009, then Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney said that 37 shanty towns had been identified in New Providence alone.
The government has commissioned various studies on the shanty town problem.
The most recent report on shanty towns obtained by The Nassau Guardian was completed a few weeks ago by a team of researchers from the Department of Environmental Health, but has not yet been made public by the minister responsible (Kenred Dorsett) or ministry officials.
What those researchers have unearthed should be of concern to every Bahamian.
There has been ‘a marked increase’ in the number of new shanty towns on New Providence over the last two years and the populations have increased “exponentially”.
The report said, “There is little to no government water systems, no garbage collection services, and very little human waste disposal, which can range from satisfactory to the other extreme of placing human feces in plastic shopping bags, and dumping waste in nearby bushes and naturally occurring sink holes.”
In New Providence alone, the team documented at least 15 shanty towns at various locations, but primarily in the south west and eastern areas of the island.
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 shanty towns 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 shanty towns and for the Bahamians who live nearby.
When proper sanitation and safety protocols are not followed, mass tragedy could ensue from fire or disease.
For the Bahamians who live near shanty towns, 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 overrule common sense, however. Illegally built shanty towns 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 shanty towns across the country.
Hopefully Dorsett was sincere when he said this administration intends to.
May 13, 2013