Haiti

Haiti 2 Years On: Why are half a million people still in camps?

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2011 has seen significant transitions in Haiti. Nearly a million people are reported to have left the camps, a new Haitian Government has been sworn into power and, according to the latest estimates from the Early Recovery Cluster, nearly half of the 10 million cubic meters of debris generated by the earthquake has been cleared.

But despite this, nearly half a million vulnerable people are still living under canvas, plagued by violence, rain and floods and the threat of eviction. It is also well known that many displaced people continue to live in unrepaired houses and even houses in need of demolition. For these people, what happened to the promises of support and the billions of dollars raised? Who is responsible and who has failed Haiti’s displaced population?

The progress of reconstruction has actually increased significantly in 2011. Overall, 100,000 families have reportedly now been reached with improved shelter, with the Red Cross alone reaching over 23,000 families, the vast majority of which was achieved in the last twelve months. Community construction teams are now fully trained and outputs have increased, production pipelines are in place ensuring the speedy transport of materials around the country and the painstaking process of identifying, and where possible securing, land has been carried out meaning construction has finally scaled up.

But how can we ensure this momentum continues? The majority of those displaced are based in Port au Prince where space is at a premium. There simply isn’t enough room to continue with large scale transitional shelter programmes, which have provided a lifeline to thousands without shelter.

Eighty per cent of the current camp population are estimated to have been renters before the earthquake but the rental system in Haiti often requires a down payment for a year; an impossibility for a camp resident who has lost everything in the earthquake and has no livelihoods prospects. The Red Cross is providing grants to help people pay their rent, complimented by financial support to livelihoods and has helped thousands of families leave camps this way. But much of the rental stock was badly affected by the earthquake and has yet to be repaired. The pace of house repairs and reconstruction must increase otherwise large scale camp decongestion programmes, including that of Red Cross, will undoubtedly slow down in the coming months.

The politics of reconstruction also has a role to play. While a new Haitian president was sworn into power in May, political instability continued to affect the pace of recovery efforts in early 2011. The appointment of a prime minister in particular was subject to intense political tension and subsequent delays, meaning that many other key positions also remained unfilled. With both the president and prime minister now in place, progress towards a stronger, more stable government is evident.

A new Government unit for housing and public building construction has recently been established and an official national plan put forward to support camp decongestion. The 16 Neighborhoods/ 6 Camps project (16/6) aims to support the closure of six camps in Port-au-Prince and renovate sixteen neighbourhoods. The Red Cross is supporting this initiative by working in Camp Mais Gate, home to nearly 2000 families. This ambitious plan is already underway and over 600 families have been able to leave the camp through rental support.

The progress made in re-housing the displaced population over the last twelve months is encouraging. But this progress must be maintained and there are currently not enough housing solutions planned to meet the need. The Red Cross is increasing its shelter targets to reach nearly 37,000 families, with a focus on rental support and housing repairs. We urge others to do the same. In addition the Government must play a greater role in bringing together recovery actors in Haiti to engage in a reconstruction framework for Haiti. This is even more crucial now the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission has ended and renewal is still under discussion.

The long standing issues confounding Haiti’s recovery are not the responsibility of one aid agency, one government or one organisation. We are collectively accountable.

The Irish Red Cross is part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil¬lion people each year through its 186 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit www.redcross.ie. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.