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PERSPECTIVES: Squatting – a continuing problem

11/2/2008

By Leonard Shorey

The Barbados Advocate of October 17 carried the headline “Squatting Woes” with a sub-title indicating that “Ongoing squatting on Zone 1 lands (is) proving to be a headache for officials”.

The whole purpose of dividing our country into residential and non-residential zones is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the risk of water pollution by preventing human and other waste from being deposited in water catchment areas.

This is a matter of critical importance for all who live in Barbados which has a long-standing reputation for having available water of high quality. Despite national efforts, however, the actions of a relatively few people can not only damage this reputation, but can be even more dangerous by actually causing contamination of the water table in the protected areas.

In addition, further contamination is caused by dumping of refuse. The seriousness of this problem is clear from the comments made by Chief Town Planner, Mr. Mark Cummins, that “illegal dumpers are having a field day ... (dumping) truck loads of computers, stoves, fridges and so on”. He went on to say that “people see the land as just bush and so they can dump on it”.

A particularly difficult problem is squatters themselves for, as Mr. Cummins reported, it is often difficult to remove these individuals. This is not a new problem, rather it is decades old and is one that has caused quite a lot of controversy for some time. Way back in 1990 when Dr. Don Blackman was Minister of Transport and Works, there also arose the issue of people squatting in the Belle area. The press of February 18 that year reported that leader of the Barbados Labour party, Mr. (now Sir) Henry Forde, called on him to make a public request of his constituents to stop the activity, (building) which put the health of themselves and so many fellow Barbadians at risk but the Minister replied: “There is no evidence that people living in there have contaminated the drinking water” – a most extraordinary statement. The Belle, of course, falls within the area which supplies a very considerable portion of the country’s drinking water.

For some extraordinary reason, there appears to be objection to having squatters removed even though they are demonstrably contravening our laws and, in addition, endangering the lives of people in Barbados. For example the press of March 24, 2008 carried a report that Parliamentary representative for St. Michael Central, Steve Blackett, argued during the Estimates debates “that those residents (squatters of Belleview) had been ‘visited by what I call political terrorism’ by the last Barbados Labour party administration”.

For the enlightenment of readers who
may not know the facts, the report added the vital information that “In 2003, some residents were served with eviction notices, and five structures were pushed down under the instruction of the Town Planning Department”. Lest this action be construed and interpreted as unduly harsh, let us bear in mind the important explanatory note that “This area, which is just off Station Hill, is part of the Zone One table which is the island’s main water catchment area. Construc-tion and water connections are prohibited”.

Against this background we can, perhaps, understand the evident feeling of frustration experienced by Mr. Cummins as expressed in his comment that “What has happened over the years, is that we have used the planning mechanism through the service of enforcement notices, to remove people but at the point of removal, we have been further advised that we should hold on the removal... The other problem that is created is that as solutions are found for these persons that are squatting in Zone 1 areas and threatening the water supply... squatting is going on unabated”.

It is quite obvious that over several decades we have permitted the actual growth and expansion of squatters on areas protected by law and have done little or nothing about such encroachments. Moreover official action has even been described and referred to as “political terrorism”.

It really is time that we get our act together. It is surely intolerable that our country should allow a few hundred people to hold Barbados to ransom by endangering its vital water supply. Such a situation is totally unacceptable and one can only hope that it will no longer be allowed to continue and that firm and determined action will be undertaken to end this dangerous behaviour.

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