Monday, Sep 16, 2019
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Courting catastrophe with shantytown problem

Haiti is in a state of crisis. It is an occupied country that was devastated by a massive earthquake last year. This calamity added to the misery of a people who are from the poorest country in the hemisphere.

The Bahamas will always have difficulties managing the flow of people from Haiti. We are between Haiti(the poorest country in the hemisphere)and the United States(the richest country in the hemisphere). Haitians come here hoping to get to the U.S. Many stay permanently.

This logical migratory flow has caused a problem in The Bahamas and our policymakers have no solution to it. We do not know what to do with the large number of undocumented Haitians who reside in shantytowns especially in New Providence.

In December we wrote about the shantytown problem. This was after the Mackey Yard fire destroyed more than 100 homes. When these events occur many revert to simplistic emotionalism. The response and discourse surrounding the tragedy usually is limited to disaster relief.

The Bahamas, however, must seriously address the shantytown issue before a catastrophe occurs. Government officials speculate that 500 to 700 people lived at the Fire Trail Road site where yesterday’s fire occurred. A fast moving fire could easily consume all the residences of one of these shantytowns. Thousands live in some of these communities.

In 2009, then Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney said that 37 shantytowns had been identified in New Providence alone. Two of the biggest shantytowns in the country are in Abaco Pigeon Pea and the Mud.

Our failure to make the tough decisions and remove these unauthorized communities could contribute to a mass tragedy.

All who reside in this country should abide by the local building code and follow town planning guidelines. These laws exist to maintain safety. Haitians, or any other group of migrants, should not be allowed to live in violation of laws all Bahamians and residents should follow.

Those who lost homes and possessions in the Mackey Yard fire and yesterday’s Fire Trail Road fire should be helped. They should not be discriminated against because of nationality. The government, churches, businesses and other civic organizations all helped after the December fire. Those groups should help again.

However, the goal of the government should be to eliminate shantytowns in The Bahamas. If we do not, one day soon we will be writing about a mass tragedy on one of our islands.

Such a day can be prevented if the state acts decisively.

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