In plain sight
Guardian News Editor
Published: May 13, 2013
Tucked in between legitimate thriving communities on New Providence and elsewhere in The Bahamas is a growing threat to the Bahamian way of life.
Over the last few decades they have developed in plain sight with many hundreds of occupants who reside illegally and for the most part without any sustained crackdown from authorities.
They have developed their own commercial operations, have little to no regard for acceptable hygienic practices and, according to a new report, are growing in numbers with increased threat to public health.
These are the shanty towns, the villages of primarily Haitian nationals, although some Bahamians and other nationals also squat on these lands.
But while just about any legal resident of New Providence could point to a shanty town, successive administrations have placed little focus on addressing what has mushroomed into one of the greatest threats to national identity and security.
Researchers have also documented the increasing threat these communities pose to public health.
The 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.
The researchers also said residents of shanty towns use naturally formed ocean holes to discard everything, including abandoned, or in one case, stolen automobiles, feces, dead animals and household garbage.
Researchers also observed that human feces has been observed in common walking areas between dwellings, in nearby bushes, and around animal pens, increasing the possibility of transmission of fecal-borne diseases to human and domestic animals.
“Unauthorized sale of prescription medications, primarily antibiotics, antihypertensive and ventilation groups, were observed and noted,” it added.
The researchers said most of the makeshift living units have been hastily constructed of material brought back to the villages by the males who are construction workers.
“Throughout these settlements, one will observe building materials: wood planks of varying sizes and conditions, struts and beams, plywood and tin sheets for roof cover.”
There have been instances where the sewerage disposal facility is only a few feet from the entrance to the dwelling.
“The substandard construction of these sewerage-holding holes lends to the cracking of the cement top of the structure, causing migration of the waste contained,” the report said.
“Yet another method of disposal, in addition to the bagging and tossing of human waste, is the burning of fecal material, in open air.
“This action has a deleterious effect on air quality in and around the burn area, spreading along with air currents, into surrounding neighborhoods as well as the possibility of further airborne contaminants and disease-causing pathogens being liberated during the process.
“In almost all shanty villages observed, in addition to the pervasive dumping of fecal and discarded items, the signs of rodent infestation around the dwellings was observed.”
The report said, “Hand washing when the behavior was observed, was performed using water in a cooking pot, small galvanized bucket or tub.
“Others would use the same water. The used water often would remain in the container, or thrown onto the ground. The children can be observed in and around garbage dump areas with little concern for disease acquisition.”
The report noted that proper hand washing is necessary for minimizing the transmission and spread of microbes and diseases associated with their presence.
“Many of the residents of these areas have little communicative skills and command of the English language, as well as little to no knowledge of public health and proper sanitation practices.”
Researchers also noted, “Children from these shanties attend local schools, based on their respective age.
“Children not exposed to these living conditions will invariably come in contact with persons that may be infected with ringworm or shigellosis (bacillary dysentery, a bacterial disease involving the distal small intestine and colon, characterized by loose stools, fever, nausea, vomiting, cramps, sometimes toxemia and tenesmus) that may cause serious physical discomfort.
“Some of the people residing in the shanties confided that many of the gangs will often steal vehicles, secure them in the shanty, and take them apart, selling electronics, engine parts, tires and rims and finally, the wiring for scrap metal.”
In the form of entertainment, the people of these shanties host cock fighting (weekends primarily) with wagers placed on combatants.
The researchers also said there appears to be little delineation in the separation of human and livestock
The report warned of “opportunistic microorganisms that possess specific morphologies, and patho-physiological characteristics that have the capability to jump species, from animal (or a human waste medium) to humans, causing serious public and personal health implications.”
Researchers visited shanty towns at Allen Drive, off Fire Trail Road; Cowpen Road east; Cowpen Road west; Gamble Heights; Zirconia Court in the area of Carmichael Road east; Faith Avenue; Bacardi Road; Spigot Road; Joe Farrington Road; Sea Breeze Lane; Kool Acres and other areas of New Providence.
Dorsett, the minister responsible for the environment, has assured that the Christie administration is not turning a blind eye to the shanty town problem.
He said yesterday that an inter-ministerial committee has been set up to tackle the issue in a serious and focused way.
These include the ministers for works and urban development, immigration, national security and social services.
“We will be serving orders under the Environmental Health Services Act and accompany regulations and bringing prosecutions,” Dorsett said.
Asked whether the intent is to prosecute the hundreds of squatters, he said the owners of the properties are the ones who would be subject to prosecutions.
“Clearly Social Services will be involved because there are Bahamians living in these areas,” Dorsett added.
“There’s a distinction between those who are occupying and those who own the land. Our orders are being served on landowners in the first instance. We’ve identified persons who actually own the land where these exist. So those persons are those who we will serve any notice.”
Dorsett said as far as he was aware, there is limited occupation of crown land.
He also said the problem is much bigger than shanty towns.
“We have been asked to go beyond looking at shanty towns,” Dorsett said.
“There will be a holistic approach to this effort and so when we look at the human condition under which people live in shanty towns, the reality is some of that exists in Over-the-Hill as well.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why the Ministry of Social Services is involved. For me, it is to ensure that these properties do not create environmental and public health hazards.
“In New Providence, they seem to be popping up more and more, but what concerns me is that more Bahamians are living in these shanty towns and in areas and in conditions similar to what you would have found only in shanty towns.”
The government will tackle poverty and the human condition, Dorsett assured.
The minister recognized that addressing the problem will require a sustained approach.
In the last administration, the issue of shanty towns came into the spotlight, on and off, primarily during several fires that erupted in those villages.
What to do about these illegal communities ought to be one of the more pressing concerns of the government — not just in New Providence.
While the new report on shanty towns outlines numerous threats to public health, the growing communities as observed by researchers, also have huge national security implications.
But what will become of the hundreds, if not thousands, of squatters?
Dorsett said the ministries of Immigration and Social Services will take the lead in this regard.
Where there are illegal immigrations, he said the Department of Immigration will act.
“I don’t think we can afford not to do something about the existence of these shanty towns,” Dorsett said.
“It is something that we have to address.”