Maria Halava, ACT Alliance
The devastating January 12th earthquake lead to 1,9 million people losing their homes in Haiti. Of these displaced people, the majority have gathered in almost 1400 temporary settlements in Port-au-Prince and other affected areas. Over 500 000 people have left the affected areas for outlying departments.
When driving around in the affected areas, you can still see loads of plastic sheeting, ruined houses and people clearing the rubble with very basic tools such as shovels and wheelbarrows.
In Port-au-Prince the houses are so close together that using machines for rubble clearing and demolishing is basically impossible. The consequence is that people are still staying in makeshift settlements where Sphere standards are a distant dream, or with families and relatives while waiting for other solutions.
Since the rainy and hurricane seasons have already started, there is the urgency of moving people from emergency shelters to transitional shelters with more durable structures. Though, progress is slow.
The biggest challenges for resettlement of people seem to be lack of available land, unclear land ownership questions and the fact that land is still blocked by debris. Politics certainly has its’ role to play, too. Forced evictions are taking place.
In the direct aftermath of the earthquake, people started to settle themselves to any open space they could find. Now thousands of people have been evicted from mainly privately owned or school owned lands or football stadiums without any viable alternative for their relocation, or any alternative at all.
Forced evictions have been a much spoken topic in Haiti. In Gressier, a town South West of the capital, 600 families were evicted late May from the local school yard where they had been residing since the earthquake. The school wanted to get its’ activities started again. Almost half of the families are now staying in the camp of Shekina on a piece of land a few kilometres away from their homes between the road and the ocean.
The Lutheran World Federation has now erected tents for 270 people.
“This is a temporary place for people until a new area is ready for people to move in”, Carmen Rodrigues, the Emergency Program Manager of the Lutheran World Federation, member of ACT Alliance, says.
Within maximum 2-3 months people will be moved to the new area in proximity of their homes, as promised by the Mayor of Gressier. The new area will provide them with a safer place with semi-permanent houses which doesn’t expose them to similar elements and risks as the current area does – such as rains, wind and flooding. Even though the camp committee has been involved in the resettlement process, people moving to the camp don’t always know what is going to happen next.
“We don’t have any place to go. Our house was damaged and it is not possible to go back there until it has been repaired”, Constante Marie Carmelle, one of the few house owners, tells us not yet knowing about the new location provided to them.
Responsibility lies within the government
“The government has the responsibility of resettling displaced people”, Collette Lespinasse, coordinator of GARR, a local partner organization of ACT Alliance member Christian Aid, says.
The Government of Haiti is working on a resettlement strategy which will provide options for displaced people living in spontaneous sites in all earthquake affected areas.
According to Lespinasse, the strategy comes out too late.
“The first three months were crucial. Now it is already too late”, she says. According to Lespinasse, the government doesn’t even offer real alternatives to people.
“If people are to move back to their homes they need help clearing the rubble. If they go to the host families they need support”, she says. For those who don’t have anywhere else to go the government should offer new areas where people could move to.
“If people are asked to move to new areas, they need services. Offering children free schooling can, for example, affect the willingness to move. People will also need jobs and for the moment better shelters”, she says.
The majority of Haitians having been tenants, not many of them have a place to return to. Also the land ownership issues have been unclear. According to Lespinasse, the government should now address the land issues. “We need political decisions and these need to be taken by the government, not the international community. The international community has knowledge and experience, but it cannot take the responsibility that belongs to the Haitian government”, she emphasises. Haitians need to be included in the reconstruction.
Not having land available is the concern of the people living in the Nerette camp in Petion Ville, one of the suburbs of Port-au-Prince. The local authorities haven’t been able to come up with any solutions to the people whose homes around the camp have been damaged or destroyed. Yet people have been told to leave within a short time period.
“If we had the possibility, we would have left the camp already”, Rosenez Stephane, mother of two children says. The family of four used to live in a house next to the camp, but the earthquake caused some damage to the house.
“We haven’t got any help clearing the rubble from our home, only the streets have been cleaned. I hope we would have been involved in the cleaning work, or that we could have at least borrowed the tools to do it ourselves”, she points out.
When it comes to the reconstruction of the country, the citizens of Haiti feel both ignored and excluded. Many of them don’t have any information what is happening now nor in the future. People have, though, organized themselves and have taken the responsibility for their life in the camps.
“Camp committees are taking responsibility of the functioning of the camp. It is of utmost importance that they themselves get involved and take action. Our role as a camp manager is only to support the camp committees to do their work”, Sheyla Marie Durandisse, Emergency Coordinator from the ACT Alliance member Lutheran World Federation says.
Homeless but not hopeless: Still five months after the earthquake, the future of hundreds of thousands of Haitians is bleak. Heavy rains have already started flushing the soil covering everything in mud. Tents and tarps will let rain through soaking people as well as destroying their belongings. The hurricane season will utterly stretch the durability of shelter material to their limits. People who fled the capital after the earthquake are now coming back to find jobs and to seek ways to make a livelihood in Port-au-Prince. The pressure to survive is high
“The resettlement of people is one of the most important issues at the moment”, Collette Lespinasse from GARR says. She urges the government to use the resources it has, and to create a clear strategy for resettlement of people.
“The government also needs to start listening to the Haitians. They cannot be excluded from the reconstruction of the country”, she says.
For the moment, the options for Haitian people are scarce.
“If we are evicted from the camp, we can only go back home even though it is damaged”, Rosenez Stephane from Nerette camp says. The family is living under threat of eviction with an uncertain future. Nearly homeless, they still haven’t lost their hope.
“We are alive, so there is hope”, Rosenez Stephane says.