Aircraft security and protection along with health and safety concerns for hundreds of Barbadians have led to Government acquiring land now occupied by squatters at Rock Hall, St Philip.
Minister of Housing, Lands and Maintenance Dr William Duguid, today tabled in the House of Assembly a resolution to compulsory acquire the land at Gemswick, St Philip owned by Balmoral Investments and leased to Grantley International Airport for ‘public safety and national security’.
The houses in the area sit on a landfill that not only emits gases dangerous to humans but they are also in danger of sinking because of the loose foundation.
Additionally, the proximity of the location to the Grantley Adams International Airport poses risks to aircraft landing and taking off and to the squatters in event of a mishap.
“The Government has made an absolute and conscious decision, knowing full well that we have to protect our people, our installations, that we have a duty and a responsibility to keep our people safe we have no choice other than to relocate the people who live on that land.
“Part of that relocation process requires us to acquire the land currently owned by Balmoral Investments,” Duguid told the House while introducing the resolution.
The Christ Church West representative said “If we assume and consider nothing else, there is absolutely no reason that hundreds of people should be living on top of a landfill.
“They’re almost 200 houses there and clearly this is unacceptable to have that number of people living on what was a landfill.”
Among the health-related reasons that persons should not reside on top of a garbage dump he explained is that the site would for years give off methane gas.
“Methane can cause things like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, clumsiness, dizziness, decreased vision, euphoria, decreased alertness, loss of memory, weakness, fatigue, emotional responses, nausea, vomiting, fainting, convulsions, coma and death,” the minister said.
He said the emission of hydrogen sulphide also presents significant health problems for people inhaling it. It is linked to leukaemia, prostate cancer and microcytic anaemia.
Duguid pointed out that while adults will suffer from these inhalations, children would be most affected.
Besides health risks from inhalation another safety factor is that methane is a combustible gas that ignites at certain temperatures and the minister said a fire officer has warned that given the site’s closeness to the airport, it is “a disaster waiting to happen”.
He spoke of aircraft pilots reporting aviation radar difficulty sometimes when going onto the runway owing to gas emissions. He explained that there is the issue of a plane possibly over-shooting the runway and colliding with the squatter houses that are close to the end of that strip.
“Every single life matters … we cannot put a price on one life,” Duguid said. “If we had a fire there and one person died, what is the value of one person’s life? What is the value of one person becoming ill because of the inhalation of gases? What is the cost of staying in hospital if you have burn injuries or cancer or whatever?”
He said that the advice from the health ministry suggests that hospitalisation cost for an injured person is $30,000 per month per person. “Can we as a Government sustain that for hundreds of people?
“How does that displace the other person that needs acute medical attention as well?
“We as a government must do everything to mitigate risks and to reduce expenses and look to the future to see how we can mitigate the problems that may come,” the minister said.