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ENVIRONMENT BULLETIN-BARBADOS: Too Many Cars, Too Few Roads

Stan Myers

BRIDGETOWN, Nov 14 1998 (IPS) - In one of his highly charged speeches back in 1994 as he worked the campaign trail, Owen Arthur declared to Barbadians that if he were elected Prime Minister, one of his goals would be to ensure that there was a car in every household in the island.

Arthur was elected, he is now Prime Minister, and many here are saying that four years later that promise has come back to haunt him.

For now thousands of cars stretch several kilometres on the major streets in this tiny eastern Caribbean island – 430 sq km, population 252,000.

Over the last four years thousands of cars, mainly from Japan have been imported into the island. The result is almost constant traffic jams causing considerable inconvenience to commuters, and to the government which now must consider the construction of more roads to accommodate the influx of motor vehicles.

In 1995 the number of registered vehicles in Barbados was 55,668. By 1997 that figure had jumped to 62,913 and up to October this year the figure stood at 66,512.

“As you know when we plan roads we usually design them taking into considerationwhat our requirements will be 20 years down the road. Our projections would have been based on a much slower growth rate. This means that these plans, made previous to this increased growth, would need to be revisited,” says traffic planner, Cheryl Bennett-Iniss.

Some observers here have attributed the increase to government policy which has seen the liberalisation of the motor vehicle importation policy now making it much easier for motor vehicles to be brought into Barbados. But for others, the health of the economy is a factor.

The per capita income of Barbados is now 6,000 dollars which is higher than countries like Jamaica where it is 2,443 dollars.

The northern Caribbean island of Jamaica faces a similar problem. In 1996, more than 33,000 motor cars were imported into the island and for several years, on average, 2,000 cars were imported into the island each month. A change in government’s car import policy back in 1993 contributed to the flood of motor vehicles on the market.

Prior to 1993 there were 17 categories under which motor vehicles could be imported into the island. Today there are only two – one for private individuals and companies and the other for dealers – a considerable reduction in the bureaucracy.

In Barbados as well as other Caribbean islands, environmentalists are concerned that the continuous stream of used cars coming into these islands fitted with air conditioned units containing ozone depleting substances is causing permanent damage to the environment.

Ozone is the layer which protects life form on earth from the harmful effects of the ultra-violet rays of the sun. Chemicals found in air conditioners used in motor vehicles are said to damage the ozone layer.

Environmentalists in Jamaica say the effect on the environment can easily be seen in the thick smog which covers Kingston, Jamaica’s capital in the mornings.

Doctors have also been reporting a marked increase in the number of persons suffering from respiratory illnesses and environmentalists are linking this to the proliferation of motor vehicles.

In addition to Barbados and Jamaica, other Caribbean islands are also trying to come to grips with the influx of motor vehicles. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Lucia are all trying to find ways around this situation.

But while the congestion on the roads is making it almost impossible to travel anywhere quickly in the capitals of these countries, some persons do not believe that the governments should change their policies to make it more difficult for residents to import motor vehicles.

Nicholas Mackie a Barbadian car dealer says the solution lies in the staggering of working hours so fewer workers are on the road at the same time. For Jamaican car dealer, Roy DeSouza one solution would be for the quality of motor vehicles imported into the islands to be higher so that many motor vehicles which now find their way into the region would not do so.

 
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