EDITORIAL: Shut down River Van Stand right now
THE CONDITION of the River Van Stand in Bridgetown is something that the vast majority of Barbadians would never have experienced. But each day thousands have no alternative but to put up with it as a necessary evil in their routine.
The decision by the Ministry of Health to condemn the facility as a health hazard might have surprised many who fall into the former category, but to those who use the facility and members of the press who have been there repeatedly to report on commuter and operator complaints, this condemnation should have come years ago.
We have no trained health specialists on our news staff, but one does not have to be a rocket scientist to see that a journey to that facility any day is a risk.
Its layout and operation as a loading and disembarkation point for passengers on minibuses and route taxis are hazardous, but when you add the proliferation of makeshift canteens and heavy rainfall, it is amazing that we have not had a major outbreak of some illness directly related to these conditions.
Officials of the Ministry of Health spoke of the lack of potable water in many of the food stalls, the suspicion that vendors who use water stored in buckets collect it from the toilet facility in the van stand, the presence of grease, kitchen scraps and water at the feet of boarding passengers.
“There are only three water closets provided for females, two urinals and two water closets for males, and these are to accommodate thousands of pedestrians on a daily basis . . . . The general sanitation was observed to be deplorable and provides harbour for rodents and other vermin. There are not enough garbage cans and a lot of litter can be seen throughout the area,” the report from the health ministry said.
It would not be unreasonable to place a significant portion of the blame for this state of affairs at the feet of the Freundel Stuart Government, since it has had more than enough time to take decisive action and has failed to do so.
But this is a problem that predates this Government by a considerable period and therefore leaves the Barbados Labour Party lacking any moral authority to suggest its hands are clean or to condemn the Government, notwithstanding that the leadership then was under Owen Arthur and not Mia Mottley.
It is now absolutely imperative that those responsible in the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transport and Works and the Ministry of the Environment give some urgency to correctingthis situation. It has been talked about for far too long – and the position of the Opposition that some vendors have been operating there for upward of two decades and should not be unceremoniously removed so close to the peak business season ought not to be a hindrance to urgent action.
It will not take a week, a month or a year for an outbreakof some food-borne illness. It just requires a simple stall worker failing to observe proper health practices in an environment that encourages such failure and every day someone operates a food stall without running water, the probability of such an occurrence remains unreasonably high.
We have spent too much time in the last 50 years on the health of our nation to, at this stage of our development, expose tens of thousands of innocent children and adults to this threat.
We understand why Government would not want to upset vendors at this time, but we believe the sensible action totake now is to remove the threat. Putting more chemical toiletsand garbage cans in the River Van Stand is akin to puttingplaster on a wound that requires surgery. It will only getworse in the meanwhile.
Creative thinking and a weekend of diligent work could bring about meaningful temporary relief. We therefore suggest that Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley close the stand and relocate all those ZR vans to the inside of the circle that is formed by Probyn Street, Lower Bay Street and Independence Square. Eliminating all parking on the outside (in front of the Fire Service headquarters, Bethel Church, and on the seaside of Lower Bay Street) would still leave room for two lanes of traffic. A continuous police presence would enforce compliance.
The minibuses could be accommodated in the Fairchild Street Terminal, since the Transport Board is operating with a considerably reduced fleet anyhow.
It is simply wrong to continue to expose Barbadians tosuch risk after the Ministry of Health has condemned thefacility. We are courting serious danger.