February 14, 2011
Although much of the recent press coverage of Haiti has focused on the election, there remain serious humanitarian concerns that have yet to be adequately addressed. A cholera epidemic continues to spread across Haiti, now accounting for some 4,000 deaths. Meanwhile, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), some 800,000 people remain in tarpaulin camps. Let Haiti Live reported in January that the 800,000 number was actually overly optimistic, writing:
The decrease in camps or spontaneous settlements of homeless earthquake survivors in reality reflects a very sad fact. Despite humanitarian efforts, an entire year and billions of dollars spent, many Haitians still find camps unsuitable for life. Despite the humanitarian efforts and the international attention, Haitians would rather displace themselves again than stay in camps that are ostensibly receiving services from the humanitarian community. The only way a second displacement can be considered a success is perhaps because it releases the IOM of its responsibility for the livelihoods and living conditions of the estimated 700,000 former camp residents.
Over the weekend, IOM tempered their success, reporting that:
“Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are likely still to be living in displacement camps by the end of 2011,” Luca Dall’Oglio, IOM Haiti’s Chief of Mission warned.
Numbers of displaced people living in camps had fallen from an estimated high of 1.5 million in July 2010 to 810,000 in January 2011. However, after a year of storms, cholera and political unrest, those remaining in camps are the most vulnerable of Haiti’s earthquake victims, with no alternative but to stay where they are.
“Furthermore, many of those who have already left camps may not have found a lasting housing solution, living instead with friends and family, or in tents in their neighbourhoods,” Dall’Oglio added.
It seems the IOM is finally acknowledging that a reduction in the IDP population alone is not a true indicator of success. Yet despite the dire situation, IOM points out that:
The warning comes as many partner agencies of IOM working on camp management are phasing out their operations. Facing increasing cost constraints and funding shortfalls, their departure is leading to a growing gap in capacity to provide services for those remaining in camps.
Only around 43,000 of the planned 111,000 transitional shelters have been built, with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies making up the largest share of the shortfall. Of a planned 28,000 t-shelters, they have built only 3,611. This despite the fact that the American Red Cross alone has raised nearly $500 million, while, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the international Red Cross has raised over $1 billion worldwide. Yet of that $1 billion, the Red Cross has spent just under $300 million.
The IOM also points out that for those who do remain in IDP camps, many will face forced evictions, contrary to human rights standards. The IOM reports that, “More than half of the displaced are living in camps established on private land with at least 99 of Haiti’s 1152 camps currently under threat of eviction.”
Allyn Gaestel, writing in the Boston Haitian, reported over the weekend on the increasing threat of forced evictions facing the displaced. Gaestel writes:
But the right to housing is enshrined in international and Haitian national law.
“The property owner’s right to property does not necessarily trump someone else’s right to have somewhere to live,” Shah explained, “so it is incumbent on the government of Haiti to…ensure that proper alternative housing is built…that is an obligation of the government. But until then, this is everybody’s problem.”
In Camp Mezyun off the Airport Road, BAI and other advocacy groups supported tent dwellers protesting their impending eviction. People in the camp had received notice that they would be expelled. They spoke of their conflicting feelings about living in the tents and facing eviction.
“We want to leave, but we can’t leave. We have no money to make a house. We can’t just go into the street,” said Irsilia Benjamin, a 61-year-old living in a stifling tent with her husband who suffers from pancreatic cancer.
“If you want to remove people from the land you need to go through the legal process,” Mark Snyder of International Action Ties, an advocacy organization, explained above the din of shouting protesters. “You’re going to have to prove private property, and that in itself, to have the single paper that says you own the property and no one can test it, that itself is a very long process. The difficulty in proving private property to legally evict people is scaring landowners into illegally evicting residents,” Snyder said.
Gaestel also notes the contradiction of the international community, which:
says it remains committed to helping Haiti, but most of the relief funding has gone to NGOs who are not responsible for buying land for resettlement. Meanwhile the political vacuum means that the reconstruction is suspended as everyone waits to see who will be elected to direct the process.
But while the reconstruction stagnates, people continue to live and die in the camps, and are increasingly forced to move.
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.”