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Public health disaster waiting to happen

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Marcia Reid feeds her baby as she speaks about the hardships she has been going through living on the informal settlement in Commons in Mineral Heights, Clarendon.
A house at Rasta Corner in Free Town, Clarendon. photos by Ian Allen/Photographer

Unhealthy lifestyle practices in informal settlements could lead to disease outbreaks

Nadisha Hunter, Staff Reporter

Serious public health concerns have been raised about the unhealthy lifestyle practices carried out by persons living in informal settlements, especially as the population continues to increase.

Data contained in the 2011 Population and Housing Census, published by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, indicated that close to 9,000 households squatted on land and more than 31,000 squatted in detached units.

A visit by The Gleaner to some of the settlements in Kingston and Clarendon revealed that with the absence of basic sanitary facilities in a number of these houses, residents have resorted to using nearby bushes as an alternative means of disposing of their human waste.

According to 27-year-old Tracey-Ann Cameron from a community called Bush on Marcus Garvey Drive, the lifestyle is of little concern to her.

"We don't really have a problem. We go bush and other persons go there too. We don't use the bush at nights, we use other means and dump it in the morning," she said.

"Who don't have toilet post them letter a bush," Oneil Reid, another of the community's members, said.

bushes for bathrooms

But Marcia Reid of Commons in Clarendon said financial challenges were preventing her from constructing a proper facility for herself and her four children, so they have no choice but to use the bushes which she said are a common area for the community members to pass their faeces.

"I don't have any money to build a toilet and so we just have to use what we have available," she said.

"My house is not good so if I had money I would fix it quicker than how I would build a toilet," she added.

Some members of Rasta Corner in Clarendon are also engaged in the activity. They too said persons without the necessary facilities would have to use the bushes or bathrooms at their neighbours' houses.

Public health specialist Dr Winston Davidson said the practice presented an imminent danger to the nation.

He said the squatter settlements were unstable lands and unsuitable for proper human settlement.

"In the absence of facilities for potable water for domestic purposes, the absence of proper disposal of faecal waste and in the absence of proper garbage-disposal systems, the condition lends itself to high risk for communicable diseases," he cautioned.

He listed cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery as some of the illnesses that can occur as a result of the lifestyle.

"Anywhere that you have persons living on marginal lands without proper water, sewage and garbage-disposal systems, you are creating the conditions for a cholera outbreak and so this to my mind is perhaps one of the most important public health challenges that we face," Davidson argued.

But Health Minister Fenton Ferguson said as the issue continues to be of grave concern, steps are being taken to address the matter.

He however said financial constraints were hindering the Government from speeding up the process.

"We see it as a major public-health risk when there is no toilet facilities and you are living in such close proximity as the case in these settlements, so it is of concern to us," he said.

"We have, in the past, with support from friendly donor agents, set up communal sanitation facilities in a number of these areas and that is going to continue as we develop these informal settlements," he said.

Ferguson added that with the Government's plans to regularise these communities the problem could soon be resolved.

"Part of that is going to be the discussions with persons living in these settlements about how we are going to be regularising the roads, the sanitation, the water and other things," he said.