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Shanty town residents fear crackdown

  • Shanty town resident Frederic Bien-Aime shows his newly-built home after his pervious house was destroyed by fire last November. AHVIA J. CAMPBELL

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 15, 2013

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Many Haitians living in two shanty towns on New Providence yesterday said they were fearful of being forced to move from the only place they call home, following a scathing environmental report revealed by The Nassau Guardian.

There has been “a marked increase” in the number of shanty towns on New Providence over the last two years, and the populations have grown “exponentially”, according to the report completed by researchers in the Department of Environmental Health.

The report titled, “Haitian shanty village locations in New Providence” indicated there are at least 15 Haitian shanty villages on the island. The Guardian visited two of those communities yesterday.

Several residents of a Haitian village off Faith Avenue and Milo Butler Highway were observed sitting in a social hub of the community speaking a mixture of Creole and English.

Several residents, though initially reluctant to speak, welcomed The Guardian into their houses, to gain a first-hand look at living conditions.

Those houses had three to four rooms, including a kitchen, bedroom and common room, and some were outfitted with a bathroom and toilet.

Yolande Pierre, 31, said if the government decided to clear out the area, those who can not afford to rent elsewhere would be forced to move to Haiti or become homeless.

Pierre, a Haitian-Bahamian married to a Haitian man and mother of five, said The Bahamas is the only country she knows.

The report, which has yet to be released to the public, indicated researchers found a “marked indifference to the extremely unhealthy conditions by those that occupy the shanties”.

Researchers said “the presence of discarded human usage, waste, combined with the presence of domestic livestock is evident”.

They warned, “In time, many of the animals from these yards will enter the food chain — as owners of the livestock observed in one particular shanty — and be sold to grocery and wholesale meat outlets as well as [used for] their own consumption.”

While garbage littered the outskirts of the community, the area appeared clean, well kempt and the only odor present was that of food being prepared.

Pierre said some residents have inside toilets and those who do not use a shared facility that is attached to a man-made cesspit.

“People say the shanty towns are bad, but I don’t see it being bad,” Pierre said. “The only thing that matters is the garbage and people do the very best they can to keep the environment clean.”

“Bahamians would say we don’t pay any bills, but if we had a choice of paying bills where the government would build us some homes with rent - though Bahamian society would not allow it - for the Haitian-Bahamian sake, we would be happy to do it.”

Frederic Bien-Amie, another resident, pointed out a sign that read “no dumping”. He said the community is a close-knit one that assists each other.

One such resident was Sarah Phillis, whose house had no electricity or water supply, though the 50-year-old said she was happy to use the shared outhouse toilet.

“Everyone tries to keep their yards clean,” Bien-Amie said. “I don’t have any garbage in this yard. I tell everybody, ‘keep your yard clean.’”

Members of the community clean the shared outhouse, Bien-Amie said.

Meanwhile, in a Haitian village located on Montgomery Avenue off Carmichael Road, several residents said the area is being developed to become more self-sustaining.

During a tour of the area, one resident, who did not wish to be named, pointed out a small vegetable farm, chicken and duck coop and an outhouse attached to a cesspit.

He said residents find the term shanty town degrading and discriminatory, and prefer the term Haitian communities. He felt the report was not an accurate reflection of his community.

“Don’t think these people are nasty, some of them have toilets,” the resident said.

“You have areas in New Providence with outside toilets, people running outside to get water on the main road. The government needs to deal with that first.”

Guerline Petit-Charles, who lives with her mother and father in that community shared that resident’s views.

Asked about the report, which warns of a serious and growing threat to public health, Petit-Charles said many residents are doing the best they can, and while they want more for their families, without employment or assistance they have to make do.

“I don’t think they throw any garbage or any waste in plastic bags or anything like that,” said Petit- Charles, who told us she has been searching for work for three years.

“They build their outside bathrooms where they dig a sewer hole and build it up just how they do it for a cesspit.”

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