Moving forward in Haiti

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Béatrice Gay observes with her proud, defiant, full of life eyes an empty land quickly being taken over by weeds. One wonders what goes on in the mind of this woman, aged 37 and mother of two children, as she looks at this land where her and 290 others displaced by the 2010 earthquake lived only up to a few months ago.

“I was with my little girl when the earthquake happened. I stood in front of my destroyed house for two days, but eventually had to move to this camp. Life was not good, but I could not afford to move out,” she explains.

Béatrice is one of the beneficiaries of the resettlement programmes carried out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) with funds from the European Commission’s department of Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection (ECHO). The camp where she used to live has now been closed and Béatrice came to the closing ceremony with her kids. “I am happy to be living somewhere else,” she says.

More than 1.5 million people were left homeless by the earthquake. Today, the numbers of displaced have decreased dramatically and stand at close to 350,000 but, as commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told the audience at the camp closing ceremony, during her recent trip to Haiti, “the people still living in camps are the most vulnerable”.

The aim of resettlement projects run by ECHO partners such as IOM or Concern is to facilitate the progressive closure of the remaining 450 camps, once their inhabitants have found a different housing solution.

Part of the humanitarian effort to address the massive destruction caused by the earthquake was the construction of new homes, most of them called transitional shelters, wooden structures that can be progressively reinforced and upgraded. But this solution was mainly aimed at those who owned property before the disaster and lost it in it.

The majority of the population living in camps, however, were not owners and used to rent. For them, being able to move has required time to let the renting market get back on track, waiting for damaged houses to be repaired and become available for rent again. But additional support is needed to help the displaced population leave the camps. So rental support projects take care of their rent for the first year, and give a small grant to the family so they can invest this money or start a small business and take over the rent afterwards.

Marie Margaret Georges moved from Camp Oscar. “Life in the camp was bad. Security was not good and I lived very frightened,” she recalls. Concern helped her with the rent and with the kids’ education fees at the beginning. Now she runs a shop in her house, selling food and hygiene products. She is doing well. “I maintain my family with the shop’s income,” she says.

Three years after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, Haiti has made a lot of progress. Most of the rubble is gone, camps are being closed, there is a government in place and businesses are opening shop.

But the situation remains extremely fragile for many. “The humanitarian job in Haiti is not done,” Commissioner Georgieva said. “There are 350.000 people still in camps, there are risks caused by climate change, with drought and storms. There is the risk of cholera cases increasing. And yet we have seen a dramatic decrease in humanitarian funding. We in ECHO are doing our part, and hope others will do the same,” she said.

On the day she arrived in Haiti, Commissioner Georgieva announced €30.5 million of fresh funds, to cover the needs of the displaced population, address cholera, and support those affected by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

Sandy was a stark reminder of how vulnerable Haiti still is to natural hazards. The hurricane caused severe damage and affected 1.5 million people. For the extremely poor, even a minor tropical storm can flatten their house, destroy their subsistence crop and endanger their frail livelihood. That is why disaster risk reduction and preparedness are part of ECHO’s humanitarian interventions. Humanitarian aid can reduce suffering and save lives, but it can also reduce the need of assistance in the future by better preparing communities to face the natural phenomena that will always be present in the Caribbean.

Since 1998, ECHO has invested more than 25 million in projects to strengthen the capacities of the most vulnerable communities as well as the Haiti Civil Protection, and the Haitian Red Cross. “We now have more than 3.000 volunteers,” Jean Batiste, the head of Haitian Civil Protection, says proudly. “We are in a cyclone area, and we are in the middle of several faults. Our dream is to have a strong system that is able to respond to all these hazards,” she adds.

Isabel Coello
ECHO Regional Information Officer for Latin America & the Caribbean