PHILIPSBURG – The dump and surrounding land that overlooks Philipsburg in St Maarten is home to almost two hundred people that live in shacks and shipping containers. The Dutch Government allocated funds to redevelop this landfill after Hurricane Irma, but work can not begin until parts of this community are relocated.
The National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) is set to upgrade the debris storage and municipal disposal sites. They aim to improve solid waste management practices, increase operational health and safety for staff at the landfill and mitigate the potential negative impact on people and the environment.
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By Tim van Dijk en Jenny Steel
After a public consultation, NRPB determined that the community adjacent to the dump would have to be resettled to enable safe redevelopment of the landfill through the Emergency Debris Management Programme(EDMP). The NRPB asserts that any resettlement that takes place, has to be implemented with diligence and under a ‘no harm principle’. They also require that people affected by the EDMP cannot be worse off and ideally their resettlement should have a positive impact on their living conditions.
Mark Williams, Acting Secretary-General for Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) confirmed that the Emergency Debris Management Project is underway. “As part of the Environmental and Social Safeguards Framework of the World Bank, a social safeguards assessment is currently being conducted by a consultancy firm which has been hired by the NRPB (National Recovery Program Bureau)who will be responsible for the drafting of a Resettlement Action Plan. Currently, we are busy in the project preparation phase of the Emergency Debris Management Project which also entails a resettlement component of the informal community adjacent to the landfill.”
Connie has lived by the landfill for over twenty years. When she heard about the resettlement plan she had many unanswered questions. But her questions and others like them will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future as Williams explained that until the assessment is complete, the government does not know how they will proceed or what the options are.
Claudius Buncamper, parliamentarian for the United St Maarten Party, is vehemently opposed to the Resettlement Action Plan and has expressed his wish for the shacks to be torn down. “I am not in favour of moving people who are illegally residing on Pond Island at the expense of the people of St Maarten.”
Claudius Buncamper – We don’t even have homes for our own people
Ermitania Pascual lives on Pond Island and claims to be a legal citizen of St Maarten. She has lived by the dump for over fifteen years. “Eleven people here have a Dutch passport. The people who live here are Dutch people. They were born in this country. I’m Dutch, I have a Dutch passport.”
Other Pond Islanders, who wished to remain anonymous, claim they pay rent to local landlords, despite the fact the land they live on is owned by the government. When asked for information about what land on pond Island is under lease, the government refused to give any details.
As yet, a completion date for the proposed Resettlement Action Plan has not been confirmed, so the Pond Island community continues to live in limbo.