By LEANDRA ROLLE
A LOCAL human rights watchdog has warned about large mounds of debris reportedly being “intentionally” set on fire in areas devastated by Hurricane Dorian - warning that if bodies are being burned amid the debris it would be “unforgivable”.
In a press statement yesterday, Rights Bahamas called on government officials to address methods being used to clear debris in the storm-impacted islands, considering the ongoing search for bodies in the aftermath of Dorian.
“(We) have become aware of several photographs of large debris fires which our contacts on the ground claim are intentionally being set… (But) have the former residents of these areas been allowed to sift through the debris to claim their belongings? Is this part of the ongoing effort to ensure that residents of shanty towns remain homeless and displaced?” the human rights group asked.
“If these fires are indeed being set at the behest of government officials, we denounce this in the strongest terms, cry shame on all involved and demand they cease and desist immediately.”
In September, it was reported that 1.5 billion pounds of debris was strewn across Marsh Harbour following Hurricane Dorian.
And last week, Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira noted to reporters that the clean-up of debris in Abaco has already begun, adding that the process was being spearheaded by the Ministry of Works.
“Once that debris is removed, collected and removed. It’s being sorted on site. In other words, the place where the debris is being cleared from, it’s being sorted there and it’s going to lay-down sites,” he said.
“When it comes down to the lay-down site, that’s when the Ministry of Environment and Housing takes over, sort of with the final solution for it which will be a combination of mulching, some will go into the landfill, some will be exported and some will hopefully be recycled and be reused.”
But sources have told this newspaper that debris is being burned without being searched or sifted for human remains.
If proven true, Rights Bahamas said this shows that the government is guilty of a “gross and unforgivable disregard of both individual rights and basic human dignity”.
“To take away the right of people to account for and bury their lost loved ones, to treat the bodies of storm victims like trash to be bulldozed to one side and burned amid a pile of refuse, would be a new low for a government of The Bahamas, worse than any crime committed by past administrations,” Rights Bahamas said in a statement.
The statement continued: “The government is reminded that when the dust settles, every single one of their actions in the wake of this national tragedy will be re-examined and investigated, combed through by observers, both local and international. History will judge them and they will not be able to avoid responsibility for the consequences of their actions.”
Up to press time, Mr Ferreira could not be contacted for comment in response to the issues highlighted by the active human rights group.
This as government continues to clear down shanty towns in Abaco.
According to Carmichael MP Desmond Bannister in the House of Assembly yesterday, the Pigeon Peas shanty town has been completely cleared down and only in need of fencing while The Mudd is some 25 percent cleared.
Further, the works minister said Sand Banks was 85 percent cleared.
However, officials have been challenged with clearing The Farm as 75 families still occupy the area.
He said government was committed to fully clearing the areas which posed several health risks.