Tuesday, 12 February 2013 02:30
By Delana Isles
Antigua St. John's - As the deadline draws close for the removal of squatters from the Perry Bay and similar squatting communities, Chief Environmental Officer (CEO), Dian Black-Layne has added her voice to the discourse from the environmental standpoint.
Speaking on the ABS morning show yesterday, the CEO noted that the public campaign for the Environment and Management Bill - which will soon be presented to government and stakeholders - has kicked off.
She noted the bill will serve as an umbrella legislation covering issues of protection of biodiversity, water quality management, environmental information and research, air quality, environmental management systems among others.
“With the exception of a few pieces of legislation that have been passed in recent years by the Ministry of Agriculture, environmental legislation in the country is archaic. It is not relevant at all to the issues that we face today.” Black-Layne said they are hoping to get everything to parliament by March and hopefully passed by June.
Speaking on the health dangers in squatting communities, particularly in the Perry Bay area, she noted that the danger is not limited to the squatters only.
“There are people all over that are doing ridiculous things, building close to a waterway so the water is now backing up. So in houses and communities where they have full DCA permission to operate and live they have a situation where the water is not flowing properly, it is not being taken care of properly.”
She stated that in some situations the DCA would try to regularize the squatters but that there are some areas that cannot be regularized.
“It just cannot happen and that is one of them, it’s not the only one, but that is one of them and we are in a situation where the potential for negative health impact is there. I can’t believe that nothing has happened before; I am sure something is happening down there that is negative health-wise but it is just not being reported and that is the difference with this Act, you now have to report it.”
She said if the DCA or Central Board Authority does not want to report something the Environmental Management bill will require them to give that information. “If we report that there are health problems going on there; and the people living there are good people and they don’t know any better, but they have a right to know if they are living in a dangerous situation.”
The CEO also pointed out that the neighboring communities are very unhappy with the situation, “They come from an Antigua where they knew what happened in the past and they are afraid of it occurring again. They don’t want that situation putting them at risk and they are following the laws – they go into DCA and they pay their fees and everything - but then you have a group of people that is allowed to not follow the regulations.”
However, the legislation says that the department would need to publish all of the potential health impact and risks, Black-Layne said. She added that it will basically reinforce the work of the Physical Planning Act, which will have to be enforced to the best of abilities.
She noted that situations like this can impact outside funding for environmental protection.
The consultant from the United Nation Environmental Programme, they were here last week, now we have to take them to all of the sites that the fund is going to take care of and if we were to take them to something like that, their reporting back would say something like we are not ready, she remarked.
“So basically what they are saying is that you don’t have the institutional capacity, the legal capacity or the political will to enforce the regulations so why am I going to give you the money… or why am I going to give you the technical assistance, or why am I going to give you the loan?”
She added that when the Act was being drafted, the area that was identified as needing the most upgrading was that particular area and it was earmarked back then as a potentially dangerous situation.
The CEO stated that this entire area needs a central sewage treatment system to assist it.
“We can go and negotiate a central sewage treatment system for the whole area but who is going to pay for it… who is going to enforce it, so if you are not enforcing now, why am I going to give you money to fix it and it requires more enforcement and you’re not going to enforce it then.”
On remedial steps to be taken to get the area back to a pristine condition, Black-Layne said once the houses have been removed and no contamination is detected it will clear itself off, however she added that eventually if the government would like to do something with that area, they would have to put down the necessary infrastructure.
“This is why a centerpiece of this legislation is environment awareness – talking to people, giving them the information they need to make proper decisions. I know if we go in there and do the water quality and the soil quality in that area and give it to the mothers of young children they will not stay there. They will not want to live there.”
Implementation on some features of the legislation will be phased and a fund, to be managed by an eight person council, is being established whereby community groups would receive 25% of the funds for use in cleaning up communities so that enforcement will be at the community level, Black-Layne said.