Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Too many squatters

Published:Tuesday | December 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Bush, a squatter community along Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston.-Ian Allen/Photographer

Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer

Rusty zinc fences, board houses constructed in a haphazard manner, limited land space and little or no sanitary conveniences paint a bleak picture of the many informal settlements dotted across Jamaica.

Over the last 10 years, the number of Jamaicans occupying land illegally has ballooned out of control bringing with it myriads of social problems.

Data from the 2011 Population and Housing Census released recently have shown a 44 per cent increase in the number of households in detached units on squatter settlements.

According to the data, in 2001 some 21,798 households were identified as squatted units. The number climbed to 31,439 up to last year when the census was carried out.

A trek through several of these communities recently revealed an existence that far contradicts the tale of the 'sweet Jamaica'.

Bush, a settlement located off Marcus Garvey Drive, mere minutes from downtown Kingston, is among the area with units captured under the census.

pig rearing

In the community, pig rearing seems to be one of the main sources of livelihood for residents. There, the number of pig pens in the clustered area with a landscape about half the size of a football field nearly equals the number of houses.

Together, the stagnant water from the gully that runs behind the houses, the stench emanating from the pig pens and the smoke from several coal kilns in a remote area not too far from the units, gave off an overpowering odour.

Here, sharing toilets, pipes and cooking area is the norm for the over 40 residents, with children accounting for one-third of the population.

A visit to an area in Clarendon known by residents as 'Rasta City' and the story is not much different.

Clarendon is identified under the census as having the third-highest number of units - 3,556 - occupying land illegally. The Rasta City settlement accounted for some 50 board units with a population of over 70 residents.

Situated on a vast landscape overrun with grass and trees, no electricity, no running water and few outside toilets, the area is a far cry from what is regarded as human civilisation.

Desmond Whitehead told The Gleaner that most of the residents were relocated by the government in 1993 after their homes were flooded in another section of the community. Most of the houses he said were donated by Food for the Poor and many of them were left unfinished.

"After a while, people just start move in and do them thing but things set a way now. We nuh have no light, no water, so when night come a pure darkness."

But, despite the many problems plaguing the different squatter settlements visited by The Gleaner, the residents have identified themselves with the area and dread any thought that one day they will have to pack up and leave.

Detached by parishes

Data on the number of detached units situated on land illegally by parishes.

Kingston 634
St Andrew 5,827
St Thomas 1,147
Portland 597
St Mary 1,594
St Ann 1, 823
Trelawny 1, 262
St James 3,141
Hanover 691
Westmoreland 5,098
St Elizabeth 490
Manchester 610
Clarendon 3,556
St Catherine 4,969