March 23, 2011
Georgianne Nienaber has an extremely important article on the housing crisis that will confront whoever is the next president. As Nienaber writes, “The bottom line is that half a million Haitians will be living in “tent” (tarp) cities at least through 2012.” The article focuses on a new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) that dispels the myth that a reduction in camp population is necessarily a good thing. The day before the one year anniversary of the earthquake, the IOM released a statement that read, “A significant drop in the number of Haitians living in displacement camps one year on after the devastating earthquake is a welcome sign of progress in recovery efforts” and that, “It is also the first time that the camp population in Haiti has dropped to well below one million.” To be fair, the IOM was not all positive, with the spokesperson saying:
“At first sight, these figures are a positive development,” said Pandya. “People are leaving the camps because they are moving into transitional shelters or permanent homes or damaged homes that have now been repaired or because they have received other forms of assistance. Or, it is also because of storms, evictions, fear of evictions or the cholera outbreak that is forcing them to leave.”
Organizations were quick to point out that it was more likely the latter, a point made on this blog as well. Now, as Nienaber reports:
Those who have fled the camp crime, including the euphemistically labeled “gender-based violence” (think brutal rapes), filth, and leaking tarps have moved to housing that is no better. Some have taken over abandoned housing in damaged shantytowns, set up tents on rubble-strewn family property, or gone to live with relatives. Meanwhile, cholera is set to make a return with the coming rainy season, and basic infrastructure needs of clean water and sanitation remain unaddressed. Already vulnerable families face eviction from landowners who have seen property values increase due to scarcity of buildable land. Preliminary findings from a sample survey of 1,033 heads of households who have left IDP sites over the past months indicate that about 50 percent of them have moved from camp settings to precarious housing situations.
Looking a little deeper at the report shows just how little the “moving into transitional shelters or permanent homes or damaged homes that have now been repaired or because they have received other forms of assistance” has actually helped reduce the camp population. The study shows that only 7 percent cited “Assistance package was provided” (2.0%), “my home was repaired” (4.7%) or “transitional shelter was provided” (0.3%) as reasons for leaving IDP sites. On the other hand, “Poor conditions in the IDP site”, “eviction”, “high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site”, and “rain/hurricane” were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents.
As Nienaber points out, those who are leaving the camps are going to even more insecure housing. 30 percent have moved back into damaged housing and 25 percent have moved into a tent or other makeshift shelter somewhere else.
Especially concerning is the high number of evictions. The IOM report also noted that between June 2010 and March 2011, some 230,000 people were evicted. A study on IDP intentions also revealed that 41 percent of those surveyed had been threatened with eviction. In November, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights directed the Haitian government to declare a moratorium on evictions. As Nicole Phillips, from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti pointed out:
“We want the hundreds of thousands of Haitians threatened with forced evictions to know that these evictions violate Haitian and International law and that they are entitled to human rights protections,” said Nicole Phillips, IDJH Staff Attorney and Assistant Director for Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law. “We hope that the International Community will also respect these recommendations and assure that their actions do not directly or indirectly support unlawful evictions.”
The problems are only being compounded by the upcoming rainy season (which officially begins next week) and the fact that “Most agencies involved in managing the camps in Port-au-Prince and nearby towns have indicated they will withdraw from their activities between April and July, largely due to a lack of funding, according to the IOM.”
A lack of funding. You read that correctly. The international community has pledged billions of dollars, yet only 30 percent has been disbursed. Meanwhile some of the largest NGOs, such as the Red Cross, have spent only about 50 percent of the money they raised specifically for Haiti. Not only does the crisis need the urgent commitment of the international community, but as Nienaber concludes:
The new president of Haiti would be well advised to read the full report. Housing, like clean water, is a human right — and both are in short supply despite the demand. Perhaps both candidates, Martelly and Manigat, should meet and discuss this issue while Haiti awaits the election results. Whoever wins will need as much help, cooperation, and advice as she/he can muster.
For more information on the conditions in the camps, and the issue of forced evictions, please see “Foreign Responsibility in the Failure to Protect Against Cholera and Other Man-Made Disasters” by Mark Schuller and International Action Ties’, “We Became Garbage to Them: Inaction and Complicity in IDP Expulsions.”