THE EDITOR, Sir:
I am very disturbed and unsettled about the prime minister's utterance in Parliament on Tuesday, October 30, 2012. She noted, "I do not believe we should allow people to build by gully banks; upon some hills where we can have slippage; and riverbed; and then begin to call whichever government that is in power that you should do something about it, and we do not know how they got the approval to build in those areas, and I really feel we should legislate to ensure that there are certain areas where no one will be able to put up not even a shack."
It is not only the prime minister's utterances that has caused a level of uneasiness within me but a question posted on the Smile Jamaica Facebook page: 'With Jamaica under constant threat from hurricanes and floods, how can we stop Jamaicans from building 'pon di gullyside'?'
First, I would like to thank Hurricane Sandy for highlighting the poor living and housing conditions that exist within Jamaica. While many live in their nice St Andrew apartments, the majority live on gully banks and squat on government lands. That is the reality of Jamaica after 50 years of political Independence.
Only when natural disasters occur do the most unfortunate in our society get media and parliamentary attention.
When the prime minister made her utterances, she got parliamentary support by the banging of the desks. From what the media and the Government are pushing, the only solution to the problem is to make laws that will prevent them from living in these areas.
Legislation will only be effective if Government puts in place social programmes that will prevent people from migrating to these areas. I strongly believe that if the majority of them could do better, they would not choose the gullyside or the riverbed. When you make such a law in the name of 'safety' for these vulnerable people without putting in place the necessary social reforms, we will have chaos. Where will they live?
NO MAN'S LAND
The only reason poor people live on gullysides is because nobody wants that land. They won't be evicted by the rich, and their only source of discontent is natural disaster.
Squatting has been a feature of Jamaican society since slavery was abolished. Ex-slaves were forced to move to the periphery of plantations.
Throughout our history, making land available to poor Jamaicans has always been a major issue. The Government must re-embark on land reform like in the 1970s. This will limit squatting.
Also, land is too expensive! The National Housing Trust (NHT) has become a middle-class entity!
The Government, over the years, has given squatters the approval by failing to distribute wealth fairly and improve the lives of all Jamaicans. The solution is to make homes and lands more cheaper and available to the poorer class by land reform and the restructuring of the NHT.