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Perspectives: A continuing problem and persistent threat

6/7/2009

By Leonard Shorey

IT is surprising, or perhaps not, how our failure to deal properly with issues eventually comes back to haunt us.
A good example can be found in reports appearing in the press of May 5, 6 which indicated that, among other things, “illegal dumping and squatting in one of the island’s biggest Zone One catchment areas have pushed nitrates to a dangerous level”. The situation is clearly a very serious one and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Indeed the report indicates that “Government will be looking to start the much-touted water treatment plant in the Belle this financial year”.

This is welcome news, but the existing conditions are nonetheless very disturbing, for indications are that the level of pollution of the water in this catchment area is “nine milligrammes per litre”, “very close” to the maximum tolerable limit of “ten milligrammes per litre”.

Barbados has a very small land area and, as one official quite rightly acknowledged, it is clearly a major difficulty to keep pollution of our water reserves to a desirable level, but it is also true that our own behaviour sometimes leaves a great deal to be desired.

This is true on two levels – at the level of the individual whose actions can demonstrably endanger the health and safety of others, and at the level, also, of Government which has often baulked at taking the steps necessary to remove squatters who have set up housing in restricted areas. These offenders have repeatedly broken the law but our Government has frequently turned the proverbial “blind eye” on these illegal actions. Needless to say, the time inevitably comes when there is a price and a very high price to be paid for our national failure to deal with such threats from their very beginning.

Indeed the story of the Belle and its squatters goes back several years.

Way back in 1990 when Dr. Don Blackman was Minister of Transport and Works, the matter of squatters in the Belle area came to the fore and instead of condemning those who were acting illegally in this matter, Dr. Blackman adopted quite the opposite attitude.

Called upon to make a public request to his constituents to desist from the practice of squatting in the area, Dr. Blackman made the extraordinary comment that “There is no evidence that people living in there have contaminated the drinking water”, an absolutely ludicrous and misleading statement.

It is strange but true that for some extraordinary reason there sometimes 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. Thus the press of March 24, 2008 reported 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”. The report indicated that “In 2003, [under the BLP] some residents were served with eviction notices, and five structures were pushed down under the instruction of the Town Planning Department”. However, the report also provided the enlightening comment 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. Construction and water connections are prohibited”. The justification for the eviction was therefore evident.

Attempts to excuse, explain away or defend squatting behaviour in such protected areas as the Belle are completely unjustifiable and send quite the wrong message to those who contravene the relevant law. It is time for this lax attitude to come to an end and for Government to take the bold, but necessary steps to remove those who disobey this law just as the time is now long, long overdue for Government to deal firmly, forcefully and consistently with those drivers of ZR vans who repeatedly disobey and pay scant respect to traffic laws and regulations.

It really is time that we get our act together. Our country most certainly should not allow a few hundred people to hold Barbados to ransom by endangering its vital water supply. Such a situation is totally unacceptable; it has gone on for an inordinately long time and should definitely not be allowed to continue. Firm and determined action is urgently needed to end this dangerous behaviour.

The contamination being caused by the illegal actions of certain individuals is part of a much wider and larger problem for, as Chief Town Planner Mr. Mark Cummins once commented: “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”.

On the matter of squatting, a particularly useful insight was shared by Mr. Cummins who stated that, “What we have also found in our research is that the squatting is primarily non-Barbadian.” This fact increases the seriousness of the situation and Mr. Cummins has put his finger on a current and crucial aspect of this very serious issue.

Squatting is a long-standing problem and one that continues to cry out for attention. What we need and need urgently is strong, firm action.

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