Present day living conditions in San Mateo

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 49            December 20, 2007

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Last week The San Pedro Sun printed an article entitled “San Mateo: the past, present and future” where we highlighted the past, the area that existed back in 1995 when the San Mateo Subdivision was being proposed as a housing site. Although, at that time, there were many pleas and opposition in regards to the creation of the subdivision, people’s attempts to save the pristine area for wildlife habitat were to no avail. “What was originally proposed was a sanctuary for that area,” environmentalists screamed.

    The “go ahead” and green light was given with the promise that this new subdivision would be fully functional with the accessibility of electricity, water, and proper roads, a police station and enough government land which would be used to construct playgrounds for the San Mateo residents. The area today, seven years later, has not seen much of that promise.

    This week, The San Pedro Sun takes a closer look at the present day living conditions of San Mateo residents and gives accounts of stories that the residents willingly shared with us. “The need for decent land and housing is of great concern to all on Ambergris Caye. The San Mateo Subdivision, as proposed, will not give the residents of this island either, but rather, will continue the cycle of slum conditions for the residents it was designed to help.” The above is a quote made in 2000 from Ana Patricia Arceo who was then Area Representative for Belize Rural South.

    The San Mateo Subdivision is a place where residents are seen drawing water from the lagoon to carry for their baths; walking on “London bridges” or “planks” just to get home; and where kids are seen playing in yards surrounded with trash. Yet, in spite of poor environmental health and economic (and socio-cultural) conditions, the families as a group have been resourceful survivors who live by principles of self-help. Since the beginning of the site development seven years ago, the residents were promised a proper road access, but have to this day not seen anything close. In fact, residents of San Mateo wind their way home on make shift bridges that stretch from house to house. Following are several accounts from residents of this area as they describe the living conditions of this area:

    “Well, I have been living here with my family for the past four years. We have a lease property and it is five of us living here. Problems we are facing entail accessing water and electricity. Some times we have to go several days without water, or electricity and it is a problem for us especially since we have kids. We are tired of hearing that we’ll receive help from the officials and nothing has been done.” said an anonymous resident of San Mateo.

    “I own this property but I am beginning to think that we are being singled out in regards to improvements. We have electricity and water access sometimes and when we do it is with little pressure. I have several kids of my own and I fear for them every time the lights don’t come on or go out because of a lot of bad buys that hang around in the area. What we are asking for is to be able to access a road. Right now we are using these bridges, but these are not safe. There are plenty times when the kids are getting ready for school and they end up slipping or falling from the planks and have to skip school for the day,” said a concerned mother, resident of San Mateo.

    “The problems I have since I live way at the back of San Mateo is getting water. At times when there is none, we have to use buckets and go fetch water in the lagoons and carry them all the way home. I have lived here for two years and have not seen much change, other than the ones families are doing on their own. We try to help ourselves despite the absence assistance of our leaders, but I have no choice but to stick around and see what happens next,” said Justo Medina, San Mateo resident.

    The complaints and stories from the San Mateo residents abound and one family claims they have been pounding the past and present town councils for help, but all to no avail. “They have promised us that they would build a road and provide assistance to the area but nothing yet. We are told that if we want electricity we need to buy the post which costs $500, but we do not have that kind of money and have to rely on candles and lamps. Its very bad conditions we are living in especially for the kids,” anonymous resident of San Mateo.

    According to Patty Verde, Town Administrator, the supply of water and electricity services to San Mateo is being funded by the tax payers of San Pedro under the auspices of the Town Council. Thus, the San Mateo residents do not pay property tax but are still receiving these basic necessities. “We provide a tank at the end of the bridge for the residents and attach a small meter which monitors their consumption. About the water pressure, BWSL is currently replacing small pipes with bigger pipes in order to increase water pressure. During times when residents encounter low pressure water is carried to the tank by the bridge when the trucks are available.”

    Why hasn’t San Mateo gotten proper road access? Ms. Verde told us that because of the lack of funds in the council, it is unable to meet the demands of the residents. “There is only so much we can do with the budget we have. We are currently engaged in the street project, the constant repairing of the roads when it rains, the garbage disposal, the central park project and many other things. When San Mateo was up and coming the proper planning procedures were not looked at and now we are faced with major infrastructural problems with the water, disposal of solid waste and sewage which need to be looked at,” said Verde.

    What does the future holds for the residents and San Mateo? Patty Verde, commented that with such little financial support it is impossible to promise that action will be taken. As far as improvements or accessing a road in the area, other alternatives are being looked at but for the most part San Mateo residents will have to take what is being given to them. For electricity, the residents have their own meters and are billed on a monthly basis. For those that do not have any meters but are stealing power from a neighbor, not only is it dangerous but illegal. Until the council or an entity can come up with a plan to build roads, only then will the residents be given the attention they deserve.

    An assessment of the area shows San Mateo in a poor state and needs dramatic action to assist those that live in the area. There are approximately 100 households that currently carry a meter for electricity and about six to ten persons living under one roof. That translates into as many as one thousand men, women, and children who are dealing with these poor living conditions in a day to day basis. What does the future hold for these residents of San Pedro? Perhaps some day soon officials will take action.
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