As Relocation of Champ de Mars Begins, Criticism Over Lack of Adequate Housing Plan Mounts

February 24, 2012

An important article this week from William Booth of the Washington Post took an in-depth look at the government and international community’s efforts to clear some of most high profile of the remaining 707 IDP camps in and around Port-au-Prince. The article focused on the Champ de Mars, home to some 17,000 people, one of the largest remaining IDP camps, and also the most visible – situated just a block from the presidential palace downtown. In a program coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), families in the camp will be given $500 rental subsidies for one year. Booth continues:

“We’re not talking about a house. We’re talking about renting a room, space on the floor, with a roof, access to water, a communal kitchen, maybe a toilet,” Fitzgerald said. As program coordinator for the International Organization for Migration, he is working alongside the Haitian government to clear the Champ de Mars camp, with a $20 million grant from the Canadian government.

Booth also notes that the program, even if successful, will only address a small part of the problem:

But the darker reality is this: The Haitian government is spending $30 million to empty six camps. There are 701 more. The Champ de Mars project will cost $20 million for 20,000 people. There would still be close to half a million displaced persons in camps. No country, no group of donor nations, no NGO is considering donating $500 million to Haiti to empty the camps.

The math does not work.

Anastasia Maloney, reporting for AlertNet, explains the details of how the beneficiaries are chosen, noting that each day long lines form to get on buses provided by the IOM to take camp residents into neighborhoods looking for accommodations:

The office can only handle around 50 cases a day, and tensions are simmering. Several people vent their frustrations at IOM officials.

“I’ve been coming here every day, every day, for weeks and I haven’t got anywhere,” said one man, clutching his paperwork.

Missed appointments with landlords can mean more weeks of waiting. Often camp residents find accommodation but it turns out to be unsafe, for example, houses built in areas at risk from flooding and landslides.

Indeed, given the fact that very few new houses have been constructed since the earthquake and only a few thousands of the hundreds of thousands of damaged homes have been repaired, it is unlikely that most of Haiti’s IDP’s will be able to find adequate shelter. Roger Annis, in a blog post on the subject, notes a troubling quote from a Haitian government representative in Le Nouvelliste:

Headlined, “Clearing the victims of the 2010 earthquake from Champ de Mars,” the article says the government’s aim is to return camp residents to their pre-earthquake living conditions, nothing more. It quotes Clément Bélizaire, representative of the Haitian government at the press conference, saying, “The government cannot look after these people over the long term. That is not its responsibility.”

As Gerardo Ducos of Amnesty International told Maloney:

“Two years after the earthquake there is still no policy in terms of housing. The vast majority of construction has been temporary shelters with a life span between two, maximum five years. There’s no plan, no strategy to make temporary shelters more permanent structures and provide people with access to basic services like water.”

Adding, “I don’t believe offering $500 to a family could be considered an adequate alternative solution to the housing crisis. What happens to the people when their rent money runs out in a year?”

Race to Zero

Annis points to a recent piece by Mark Snyder of International Action Ties, entitled “The Race to Zero: How Prioritizing Closure of IDP Camps Aids and Abets Illegal and Forcible Evictions of Haitians,” which as Annis writes “decries the emerging trend of a ‘race to zero survivor camps’ on the part of Haitian and international agencies anxious to claim ‘progress’ in closing camps, regardless of the humanitarian consequences for residents.”

The article by Snyder documents the complicity of the IOM, the very agency tasked with moving people out of the Champ de Mars, in the eviction of 43 families from the Barbancourt 17 site.

NGOs have also shifted services out of camps in an effort to, as CARE reports, “minimize the incentive to remain in the camps.” The reduction of the IDP population has been touted by the U.S. State Department and others as a sign of progress and success in Haiti, yet this “push” strategy has forced Haitians into even more precarious living conditions, as over a million Haitians are estimated to be living in damaged or destroyed buildings. Meanwhile, those that do remain in the camps face declining services.

A recent study by the Haitian water authority, DINEPA, revealed “47% of the water tests conducted in households are of poor quality, compared to 29% in early December,” and that “[o]nly 55 per cent of households in camps drink chlorinated water.” This probably results in part from DINEPA’s finding that “Only three per cent of households in camps are now receiving water provided by an NGO.”

Additionally, as Booth reports:

As of last month, there was no committed funding for emptying camp latrines, a risky gambit in a country facing a cholera epidemic. Almost all health services have been removed.

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