Following the complaint made by Joint Committees of LALIT’s Regionals and Local Inhabitants in some five areas, the Ombudsperson for Children has conducted enquiries on-the-spot in Cite Richelieu, Ste Catherine, Rose Belle EDC and Cite Telfair. The problems concern the living conditions of children in Government constructed housing that, in one case, includes asbestos walls and, in the other, is housing built with blocks and slabs but with no columns.
Here are the formal details of the problems, as summarized by the various Joint Committees:
For the Asbestos Housing:
Outline of the Facts
The dangers to health and lives of asbestos is internationally and nationally recognised. We quote from the United Nations World Health Organisation website:
All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.”
Asbestos housing and asbestos contamination
Asbestos houses are made of asbestos panelling – two-layered sheeting: one of the outside, and one on the interior side and another one on the exterior side of the house, with empty space between the two. The roof of these houses is of corrugated iron, v-shaped, sloped on both sides. This means that however well-painted, asbestos fibres from between these two sheets float out of the empty space between the asbestos sheeting and get into the house.
Additionally, in many of these houses, the asbestos panels are cracked, have partly broken or/and have become friable (kram-kram) which exposes children and adults living in them to even more danger to their health and lives.
Where occupants of asbestos houses have had/have the means to replace asbestos panels with block and concrete housing, the asbestos panels have been left lying around. Those lying around on the streets have either:
- been taken away by local scavenging services. (EDC Residents have noted that no special protective clothing are worn by workers.); or
- are still lying around in peoples' yards or in unused land on the estate; or
- are being used as border walls by EDC inhabitants adjacent to the streets where children usually play.
This means that all inhabitants of all EDC estates, including children, are exposed to asbestos contamination.
After the 1960 Carol cyclone when many people lost their homes, the State through the Ministry of Housing, built some 60 housing estates commonly called “Site EDC” in different regions of Mauritius. These houses made of asbestos panels were then leased to those who could not afford housing. This was during a historical period when the dangers of asbestos to human health was not generally known.
Over the years, most EDC householders who could afford it have replaced asbestos houses with block and concrete, but those who could not, and still cannot afford it still live in asbestos housing.
In the early 1990's after the State took the decision to give EDC/CHA house leasers the option of buying the land and house they live on, the State Lands Act was amended to allow state land to be sold to CHA/EDC house owners:
State Lands Act
5. Sales of State land
3. Notwithstanding the other provisions of this Act, where the owner of a house standing on a portion of State Land, which was built as part of a housing estate commonly known as an ex-CHA Housing Estate, is willing to buy the portion of land, the Minister may sell it to him by private contract at the price of 2,000 rupees.
However this does not apply to EDC estates in coastal areas in regions falling under the Pas Geometriques such as EDC houses in Riviere des Galets or Riambel as such land cannot be sold:
Pas Geometriques Act
2. Pas Géométriques (1) The reserved lands along the sea coast commonly called the ‘Pas Géométriques’ and referred to in the Arrêté of Général Decaen of 5 May 1807, shall form part of the ‘domaine public’ and be inalienable and imprescriptible.
3. Breadth of Pas Géométriques
1. The breadth of the ‘Pas Géométriques’ shall be reckoned from the line of the seashore which is reached by high water at spring tide, and shall never be less than 81 metres and 21 centimetres.
In certain EDC estates such as Telfair, Moka, for some reason, EDC dwellers have not been given the option of buying the house and land they live on even if they live inland and not in Pas Geometriques.
So currently, all asbestos house dwellers in coastal regions and some in inland regions are still leasing the land and house they live on. In all other EDC estates, asbestos dwellers have either bought the house and land or are still leasing it.
Asbestos recognised by the Mauritian State as being dangerous
National Action Plan on Asbestos (2002)
Following campaigns by the trade union movement, EDC inhabitants and Lalit, the Mauritian State started recognising the dangers of asbestos to health. An Interministerial Committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance was set up in June 2001 to look into the health dimension of asbestos in Mauritius. A National Action Plan on Asbestos of October 2002 (known as the Addision Report) was produced, and some important measures were taken to prevent asbestos-related health dangers, for instance:
1.The import and use of all types of asbestos fibers became prohibited under the Dangerous Chemicals Control Act 2004. 2. Products containing asbestos is controlled, Products containing blue asbestos were consequently banned.
These measures however, did not include the removal of asbestos panels in EDC housing even though the report recognises the presence of asbestos material in EDC housing:
3.2 EDC Housing Estates
According to a list submitted by the Ministry of Housing & Lands, out of the 3113 houses built in the EDC housing estates over 69 sites in the 1960’s, 263 have been pulled down and new houses rebuilt on the sites. Therefore, it is estimated that 2850 houses are still in place, whether in the original state
or extended, each containing about one tonnes of asbestos. It is assumed that about 275 tons demolition debris is presently lying in the premises of the residents in those housing estates.
(Extract from the National Action Plan on Asbestos 2002)
1. The import and use of all types of asbestos fibers have been prohibited under the Dangerous Chemicals Control Act 2004. 2. Products containing asbestos is controlled, Products containing blue asbestos have been banned.
Recommendations by Head of Occupational Health Unit, Ministry of Health
In a document entitled Health Dimension of Asbestos in Mauritius (May, 2006) Dr. R. Sibartie in his capacity as Head of the Occupational Health Unit, Ministry of Health made the following recommendation:
Problems There are still many private buildings with asbestos materials. The asbestos panels in the Housing Estates will have to be replaced by Government. This will be a very costly project, but the health of the inhabitants should be a major concern for the Government. Identification of disposal site is another problem. The present cell for hazardous waste in the landfill site is reaching saturation point and the authorities will have to look for alternative sites.
Truth and Justice Commission (2011)
The Truth and Justice Commission made a multi-disciplinary survey of an EDC estate in La Mivoie, Grande Riviere Noire and made clear recommendations to remove and replace asbestos housing. This Commission also demonstrated some of the links between children's rights and safe housing. We quote from the Truth and Justice Commission Report (TJC Vol 3):
In line with Article 27 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) the State should ensure
that every child in the housing estate enjoys the right to a standard of living adequate for his/her
physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. It is the State’s obligation to take
appropriate measures to assist parents in the Cité and others responsible parties to implement this
right and in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with
regard to nutrition, clothing and housing in accordance with national conditions and within their
The Truth and Justice Commission also made very clear recommendations on the need to remove and replace asbestos housing. We quote from their Report (TJC Volume 1):
The Commission recognises that successive administrations have provided low-cost housing to those
who need it most. However, it is clear that many of the citizens of Mauritius are living in
degrading circumstances. Some well-intentioned schemes have failed and some families are
living in overcrowded, unkempt housing, and many in absolute squalor.
The Commission recommends that immediate plans be introduced to audit existing housing estates
with a view to upgrading and, where necessary, to embarking on new decent (not low-cost)
Many housing estates have buildings constructed with asbestos, a toxic substance which is damaging to health. These houses should be pulled down on a phase to phase basis and other units
constructed with proper material. Many housing estates, now known as residences, are devoid
of kindergarten, playgrounds and some are without community centres. These shortcomings
should be addressed.
National Committee on Removal of Asbestos (2015)
In 2015, there was a National Committee on Removal of Asbestos chaired by the VicePrime
Minister, Minister of Housing and Lands, Mr Showkutally Soodhun. This Committee brought together the Minister of Public Infrastructure and Land Transport, Mr Nandcoomar Bodha, the Minister of Health and Quality of Life, Mr Anil Gayan, the Minister of Environment, Sustainable Development, Disaster and Beach Management, Mr Raj Dayal, the Minister of Social Integration and Economic
Empowerment, Mr Prithvirajsing Roopun, the Minister of Local Government, Dr Anwar Husnoo, representatives of the Parliamentary opposition, several ministries and public agencies, civil societies, NonGovernmental Organisations, and trade unions. Its objective was to find suitable solutions for these families living in EDC/Ex–CHA houses built with materials containing asbestos.
The National Committee announced that the Ministry of Housing and Lands and the Ministry of Social Integration and Economic Empowerment would work on the provision of temporary accommodations and/or housing facilities to the residents of those EDC houses. Meanwhile, the Committee
would establish a time frame regarding actions that need to be taken for close monitoring.
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development had agreed to disburse the required fund regarding the removal of remove asbestos in the EDC/Ex–CHA houses. (See Government Information Service document attached).
Given that it is the State that is responsible for building, leasing or selling dangerous houses made of asbestos panels to people, it is the State that must:
1. Take on the responsibility of replacing asbestos houses in all EDC sites across the country and at the same time, ensures their replacement by safe and durable houses that are affordable by residents who cannot afford to build a house to live in;
2. Take on the responsibility of removing asbestos panels lying around or being used unsafely in all EDC housing estates.
Action taken by joint LALIT/EDC Inhabitant Committees
Petition by inhabitants of Telfair EDC inhabitants in April 2017 addressed to the Minister of Housing – no reply;
Petition by inhabitants of Rose Belle and Telfair EDC addressed to the Minister of Finance to make provision in the budget for asbestos house removal and replacement by safe houses in May 2017 – no reply.
In the same month, a petition was also submitted to the Ministers of Housing, Social Integration and Environment with the above demands – no reply.
As from August 2017, asbestos house inhabitants of Telfair EDC, Ste Catherine EDC, Cite Circonstance, Rose Belle EDC, Bois Cheri EDC, Cite La Chaux EDC, Old Grand Port EDC and St Hubert/St Hilaire EDC individually wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing to demand that their asbestos house be removed and replaced by secure and safe housing given that it is the Permanent Secretary who is the Ministry of Housing officer who is responsible for housing built by the Ministry and leased/sold to EDC inhabitants – no response.
Joint LALIT-EDC Inhabitant Committees
15 January, 2017
For the Housing with no columns
Outline of the Problem concerning some 16 Houses
& Demand to Government
- There are hundreds of Cite Richelieu houses constructed after the “bagar rasyal” at the end of the 1960’s which were constructed soundly and which are not part of this problem.
- The problem concerns some SIXTEEN houses built in the late 1970’s [early 1980s] i.e. construction was faulty, with blocks and a concrete slab being used – but without columns.
- These houses are literally sieves, leaving families to live in appalling wet conditions. Bits of ceiling keep falling down on people. All electric installations are a constant hazard for electrocution, exposed as they are to running water inside the houses.
- Children, and even babies, are exposed to constant damp, mould, and physical danger from falling concrete. Slippery floors are a constant hazard. As is electrocution. Food and schoolbooks are constantly ruined. Plywood furniture regularly has to be thrown away.
- People have adapted by resorting to keeping their clothing in big plastic dustbins. Every space in the houses are dotted with recipients for catching rain water – on beds, chairs, on the floor, on the tops of electric appliances, like refrigerators, televisions and washing machines.
- A Government Engineer (“Mr. Sachin”) has said the houses cannot be repaired, and need to be pulled down.
- The NEF has tried its best to repair some of the houses by replacing some of the slabs with corrugated iron. But the houses continue to be uninhabitable.
- The people in these houses find themselves in the identical situation of those living with asbestos separations: they are living in dangerous housing. The Government supplied this dangerous housing, and so the demand is evident.
After many meetings, people agreed unanimously that the only demand is the following:
That Government takes responsibility and bears the cost of demolishing the existing faulty houses and rebuilding new houses for the occupiers,
and that this be achieved by means of transferring occupants to temporary housing, for the duration of construction.
What we have, so far, done – An Outline
LALIT members have a long history of working with homeless people from the 1990’s onwards.
It was only natural that it was to LALIT that a grassroots activist turned in early 2016 about this problem. And soon the joint LALIT (Western Region) and Cite Richelieu Inhabitants’ Committee was set up
March 20: 16 families write a first letter to Housing Minister, S. Soodhun – one individual letter and one collective petition. The letters were sent by Registered Post. Days and days, we made follow-up phone calls which all proved useless, whether addressed to the Press Attaché or the Secretary to the Minister. We could not even get formal proof that the Registered Letters had got to them.
April 14: Press Briefing: “Subject: Dangerous houses without columns literally falling on poor families’ heads. Minister Soodhun fails to reply to petition. Reporters are requested to invite press photographers/filmers. Rue Jeanne D’Arc, Cite Richelieu.” (Articles in Le Mauricien and Week-End, report over Radio Plus).
May 5: Open evening neighbourhood meeting of 50 Cite Richelieu inhabitants in the Community Centre. Organized by “Joint Committee of LALIT (West) and Richelieu Inhabitants. Topic: Smart Cities v. Housing for people to live in?
June 2: Letter from Inhabitants of Cite Richelieu to four MPs Mrs Danielle Selvon (Independent at the time), Jean-Claude Barbier (MP), Veda Baloomoody (MMM), Patrice Armance (PMSD). Letters to MPs contained all the facts on the dangerous housing issue so as to enable them to ask a PQ in the National Assembly. As the Minister of Housing had not replied to their letters and phone calls, Cite Richelieu inhabitants tried to get a response through their elected representatives in Parliament.
September 15: Evening Forum-Debate on Housing and the Land issue at the Village Hall in Cite Richelieu organized by Muvman Lakaz. Full house. Only one speaker came Ram Seegobin of Parti LALIT. Housing Minister Showkatally Soodhun did not bother to reply. Again phone calls were on deaf ears. MP Veda Baloomoody sent a message that he would not be in the country. MP Danielle Selvon was not free but sent a representative to take notes. Jean Claude Barbier says it was a “pert detan” so he would not come. Patrice Armance accepted and did not turn up.
October 10: We learnt that Mrs Danielle Selvon met with NHDC Director, M. Giles L’Entete. He sent an NHDC inspector or engineer (Mr. Sachin) to visit and he said the houses cannot be repaired, and must be demolished and rebuilt. When the CHA was contacted, they said to go to the NHDC. Mrs Selvon did a site visit on 9 October in preparation for a Parliamentary Question. We have found the question but not the reply.
November: Press Conference at GRNW on land and housing. Three delegates present from the Joint Committee, Carmen Louis, Suzie Laurent, Mrs Carosin spoke. IONNEWS and other press and radio reports. Link to IonNews coverage.
November 18: 14 families go to meet Minister Soodhun at Government House when he is Acting Prime Minister in person because he does not reply to their letters. In Radio and Press and IONEWS video.
Minister Soodhun apparently puts out a communique (says there are 3 options). Note that this communique is not sent to us, not published in the Press (though journalists have copies), and is not on the Ministry site.
1. Apply to the NHDC:
For money for a slab (like everybody gets, if they can do their own demolition and house construction).
For money for some materials.
2 Apply to MHC for a construction loan;
3 Apply NEF to give a hand with repairs and /or construction.
People all systematically tried all these routes, none worked. Either people cannot afford what is proposed, and/or cannot manage the construction proposed.
February 27: Delegated two families, Marie Noelle and Suzy to go to Trust Fund for advice about construction help.
March 6: Mario and two members go to see Minister Wong at CAB, present him a dossier. He asks all 16 families to submit names, addresses to CAB. This will be followed by a means test. He says if the Government’s construction is at fault, Government will have to take responsibility to demolish and rebuilt, without a means test. List submitted.
March 27: Two NEF staff, Mrs Pitchen and Mrs Michaela came and took photos of 13 of the 16 houses. They also took the revenue details of each family. Joint Committee member, M. L’Entete proposed to have a sample of the concrete analysed in a government laboratory. To enquire on the cost and other details of such an analysis.
U of Mauritius Civil Engineering Department informs Kisna and Minister of Public Infrastructure informs member M. L’Entete that it will be dangerous to remove a core of the slab for testing.
April 6: Visit by a volunteer engineer who came and inspected for us, and said that it was imperative to demolish and reconstruct.
April 10: NEF informs Mario that we have to submit details as to who has bought the land as well as the house – for each case. This was done and submitted.
May 8: Mario rang Mrs Pitchen at NEF for follow-up. Told dossier with Mrs Padaruth. It will be ready in 5 minutes, she said, and she would telephone Mario. She did not.
May 10: NEF (through Mrs Padaruth) says that the Minister has had the dossier since 20 April 2017, but that people have to go to Social Security to get on to the Social Register of Mauritius (SRM).
May 11: Held open evening meeting at Community Centre (organized by Joint Committee) on imagining housing and job-creation for Richelieu.
July 17: We learn that Marie Edmee Celestin in a letter of 28 June was informed that she does not qualify for the Social Register Mauritius (SRM) her revenue being Rs 6588, while the maximum is Rs5440.
We learn that the NEF called Mr. L’Entete and propozed he put a slab on his walls that do not have columns. Mr. L’Entete says this is obviously too dangerous. He was made to sign some document which he is not clear what.
July 20: The engineer Mr. Wong said would come, never did, as far as we know.
July 31: Joint Committee sends letter to PS Minister Housing.
October 27: Two families put a complaint to the Ombudsman in Port Louis in person. Ministry of Housing finally calls the two families in on 12 December, suggests same 3 remedies. When they say, but the engineer says the houses must be demolished, they said they would consult higher civil servants. Then they heard nothing. We re-contacted Ombudsman 10 January 2018.
December 10: Two Families submit complaint to the Ombudsperson for Children.