FIJI GOVERNMENT MUST ADDRESS SQUATTERS’ NEEDS

Editorial

Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Mar 10) - A government plan to control the growth of squatter settlements will require a lot of work and resources.

There is no doubt that many people moving to urban centers elect to join squatter colonies because they are affordable and do not require long formal processes of documentation.

Squatter settlements are springing up everywhere, worrying not just the government but also the legal owners of such pieces of land.

For the landowners, it means pursuing legal processes to evict the families.

For the government, the onus of finding somewhere else for these people to live rests with its administrative arm.

But because many squatter colonies spring up overnight, it is hard to control their growth.

Now, the government wants to set up a special unit to monitor the growth of these illegal colonies. Its main task will be to discourage people from starting or joining squatter colonies.

But it will only work if the government probably with the assistance of the private sector provides affordable housing for the families, most of whom lie at the bottom of the income range.

The Government can provide this at new sites or it may have to persuade landowners to allow land where squatter settlements spring up to be upgraded, subdivided and sold to those who are occupying it.

Whichever way is chosen, squatters have to be offered land to buy and live legally instead of illegally living in such settlements.

Some of the families moving to urban centers from rural communities include cane farmers whose land leases were not renewed after expiry.

These farmers see no other choice but move to urban centers to find work to support their children through school.

Some other families move from villages or islands because their children need to attend tertiary institutions or high schools only available in the urban areas.

But because most of them are not skilled workers, they are only able to find casual employment.

They cannot afford homes provided by the Housing Authority and, in some cases, by the Public Rental Board. They cannot afford to rent homes in the city or the suburbs.

Their only option is to join the growing number of squatter settlements in urban areas.

There are about 180 of such squatter settlements. Families living in them are poor and deserve to be offered somewhere decent to live.

It is part of the government’s responsibilities to provide that for them.

March 11, 2005

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