By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AS THE Minnis administration forges ahead with its crackdown on shanty towns, a census of people living in all 11 of these illegal residential areas spread across New Providence is expected to begin Saturday, Labour Minister Dion Foulkes has told The Tribune.
Mr Foulkes, who is chairman of the government-appointed shanty town committee, said yesterday the government needs a clear understanding of the demographics involved as it moves to clean up the capital and more broadly the country.
So far the committee has toured many of the shanty towns in The Bahamas and has narrowed down who the Bahamian landowners are. The government, Mr Foulkes said, intends to meet with these people to get a full understanding of the shanty town issue.
There are also some instances, he said, where the land on which homes are now standing is held on a farming lease.
While there is no clear indication at this point when the exercise will be completed in New Providence, the minister said census officials will focus their attention on the Family Islands when this is done.
In the lead up to the census exercise, he said a training session began yesterday morning for the 11 teams in Nassau tasked with the information collection. This is in an effort to ensure the elimination of the shanty towns and their residents are handled as sensitively as possible, he said.
This comes after the committee toured the Farm Lands, Sand Banks, the Mud and Pigeon Peas shanty towns in Abaco where they got a sobering picture of the urgent need to overhaul these areas.
“(There are) four persons on each team and each team comprises of a security officer, someone who speaks creole and also a female. They are from the Department of Immigration, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and also the Department of Social Services, the Ministry of Works and also the Ministry of Health,” Mr Foulkes said when he was contacted yesterday and asked of the work of the shanty town committee.
“They are going to do a complete survey. The Department of Statistics is going to get a survey going for us and they are having a training session tomorrow (Thursday) and after that training session they are going to begin to survey all of the 11 shanty towns in Nassau beginning on Saturday.
“The purpose of the survey is to ascertain exactly how many residents are in each shanty town, their ages, how many are in school, how many are working, (and) any disability issues. There are quite a few questions and this is to get a good idea of what we are dealing with.”
Asked of the ownership of the land where the shanty towns are established, he said: “All of the major shanty towns are formerly farms and as the farms closed the workers on the farm stayed on the land.
“Most of these developed when there were no subdivisions in these areas like on Carmichael Road. There was just mass land out there, a lot of farms. It isn’t like it is today.
“Same thing out in Fox Hill but the farms closed down and the land was converted into subdivisions and formed around the shanty towns as opposed to the shanty towns forming in the subdivisions.”
“At the end of the day we want to deal with this with extreme sensitivity. We are not going to do anything during the academic year to disrupt the kids who are in school, so whatever we do is going to be done during the summer months,” he said.
On Sunday Mr Foulkes was visibly shocked by much of what he saw in the Abaco shanty towns.
At the Marsh Harbour government complex following Sunday’s tour, Mr Foulkes insisted all of the areas seen were a “major catastrophe waiting to happen”.
And recent fires in the Mud have further compounded the need for this menacing problem to be addressed in the long term.
“People could actually die,” he said.
“In some of these communities there isn’t one single home built to code, so the question is how we can go about addressing this matter in a way that is humane and considerate to the persons living in here?” he questioned.
Referring to makeshift power generating systems scattered around the muddled communities, Mr Foulkes said: “Just on this visit today, I saw three major generators that had 20 to 50 different lines connected to that generator.”
When asked by The Tribune for a timeline of the government’s efforts in Abaco, Mr Foulkes said the Minnis administration doesn’t intend to “storm in.”
Rather, according to Mr Foulkes, the government intends to move with a level of “calm and decency”.
In addition to the 11 shanty towns in New Providence – eight of which are in the southwest part of the island and the remaining three in the eastern district, there are four shanty town communities in Grand Bahama and several in North Eleuthera, North Andros and Abaco.
The shanty town committee is comprised of 30 members from various government departments, ministries and law enforcement agencies.