MP Dion Faulkes, Minister of Labour, visited five of Abaco’s shanty towns briefly on March 18, 2018. He then held a meeting with about 20 heads of Abaco’s various governmental departments that might be part of solutions that government expects to put in place. His presentation focused on the general problems and equally broad actions forward. Specific actions were not mentioned. Government is recognizing the need to resolve the escalating social, economic, health and other problems that these slum settlements pose.
There are quite a few shanty towns on Abaco. These are settlements where illegal immigrants have squatted. Several of these have grown over the years to be very large communities but with a minimum of roads and access, without proper sanitation and without normal utilities. They even have their own internal businesses, many illegal.
A Shanty Town Action Task Force, SATF, is being formed in Nassau to recognize and implement suitable actions to mitigate and resolve shanty town issues in a legal and humane manner. Similar SATF committees are being formed on affected Family Islands to find local solutions appropriate for each island’s unique issues. Solutions for the Family Islands are expected to parallel those implemented in Nassau but may not be identical as each island’s situations are examined.
Mr. Faulkes admitted that the country-wide challenges are great, but that ignoring the situation will only lead to greater problems. He alluded to Marsh Harbour’s Peas and Mud settlements as posing larger problems than those faced in Nassau due to the physical size and population of these two areas.
Mr. Faulkes noted that virtually all of the Peas and Mud residents are employed and have a degree of financial means. It was said that most pay $100 per week to someone for their one-room apartment. Water and electricity are usually an additional flat fee as there are no meters. All power is from illegitimate sources. It was said without further comment that it is Abaco’s economic success that attracts the migrant workers.
The Abaco shanty town committee will be chaired by Administrator Maxine Duncombe and was formally assembled in a meeting on March 23. Inasmuch as cooperation will be required between the various government agencies, all relevant department heads will be on the committee. Representatives from local government, appropriate non-governmental organizations, and the other members of the affected communities will be included. Solutions will require cooperation from many elements of government and society.
Government understands the complexity of resettling thousands of men, women and children and that it will be a long-term process. Much of government’s initial efforts will be to ferret out recent arrivals who are here illegally. Subsequently, systems must be put in place to help Bahamians and legal foreign workers to become integrated into our society under acceptable living conditions.
Although the Abaco committee will be formed immediately, it may be a year before action is seen on the ground. Government plans to begin this process on New Providence where solutions are expected to be easier to implement than on Abaco with its myriad of social, economic and health issues in a population numbering in the thousands. Government is aware that adequate alternate housing does not presently exist for low-income families who want and are able financially to move.
Government is cognizant of family values and does not plan any exercises until the current school year is completed. No one knows the number of affected persons. It could be 1,000 on the low side to 7,000 or more on the high side. Low cost housing does not exist for that number of persons. There is an acute shortage of affordable lots and no low-cost apartments available on Abaco.
It was suggested that this is an opportunity for a public/private partnership between government providing the land and a suitable developer building low-cost housing. Both studio apartments and single bedroom units are needed.
During the follow-up meeting on March 23, 2018, chairmen of some of the various subcommittees were names and will be subsequently formed. Budget inquiries will be made to Nassau as subsequent action will require an operating budget. Administrator Maxine Duncombe and most of those persons present at the March 23 meeting expressed a strong desire to see how Nassau proceeds and what budget is committed to this exercise. The next meeting of the Shanty Town Action Task Force on Abaco will be in mid-April.