One Year After Quake
Million Plus Remain Homeless and Displaced in Haiti
By Bill Quigley and Jeena Shah *
One year after the January 12 2010 earthquake, more than a
million people remain homeless in Haiti. Homemade shelters
and tents are everywhere in Port au Prince. People are living
under plastic tarps or sheets in concrete parks, up to the
edge of major streets, in the side streets, behind buildings,
in between buildings, on the sides of hills, literally
UNICEF estimates that more than 1 million people - 380,000 of
them children - still live in displacement camps.
'The recovery process' as UNICEF says, 'is just beginning.'
One of the critical questions is how many people remain
without adequate housing. While there are fewer big camps of
homeless and displaced people, there has been extremely
little rebuilding. The UN reported that 97,000 tents have
been provided since the quake. Tents are an improvement over
living under a sheet but they are not homes. Many families
have lived many places in the last year circulating from
rough shelters to tents to camps to other camps to living
alongside other families.
It is important to understand that families may leave the
huge unsupervised camps and still be homeless someplace else
- like a tent in another part of the city or country. Moving
from one type of homelessness to another cannot be allowed to
be declared progress against homelessness and displacement.
The key human rights goal is housing, not moving out of the
One illustration of the housing challenge facing the Haitian
people can be found in a recent report from the International
Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM December report
announced a reduction in the number of persons remaining in
displacement camps. The IOM then wrongly concluded that the
number of people displaced and homeless was reduced
accordingly. Why is this conclusion wrong? Because the IOM
report does not even try to track where displaced persons go
after they leave a particular camp. They equate homeless
families moving out of displacement camps as families finding
These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading
but threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year
after Haiti's devastating earthquake.
Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an
opportunity to examine some of the many important housing
challenges still facing Haitians.
IOM Assertion: 'We finally start to see light at the end of
the tunnel for the earthquake-affected population,these are
hopeful signs that many victims of the quake are getting on
with their lives.' IOM reported there has been a 31% decrease
in the number of internally displaced people living on IDP
sites in Haiti since July.
Fact: Getting on with their lives? Of an estimated 1,268
displacement camps, at least 29% have been forcibly closed -
meaning tens of thousands of people have been evicted, often
through violent means. Many who are forcibly evicted from one
site move on to set up camp for their families in another
location, which is often more dangerous. This is not getting
on with life; this is searching for less dangerous places for
the family tent.
IOM Assertion: People with houses labeled red (uninhabitable
or extremely dangerous) or yellow (in need of repair) have
'chosen to return to the place of origin or nearby to
establish a shelter.'
Fact: As of December 16, 2010, only 2,074 of the estimated
180,000 destroyed houses had been repaired and a small
percentage of rubble had been cleared. Decisions by desperate
homeowners to move back into still destroyed homes is hardly
It is also not even possible for large numbers of people who
were renters to return to their destroyed homes. The
destruction of more than 180,000 private residences coupled
with influx of international aid workers has made Haiti's
rental market soar. An estimated 80% of those rendered
homeless by the earthquake were renters or occupiers of homes
without any formal land title. Current rents are unreachable
by the majority of displaced Haitians, many of whom who lost
their means of livelihood during the earthquake. The IOM
admits 'The lack of land tenure and the destruction of many
houses in already congested slums left many of those
displaced with few options but to remain in shelters.'
IOM Assertion: 'Some households rendered homeless after the
earthquake left congested Port au Prince all-together going
home to the regions. Others sent their children to the
countryside for a better life.'
Fact: Rural Haiti before the earthquake was home to 52% of
the population, 88% of which was poor and 67% was extremely
poor. Rural residents had a per capita income one third of
the income of people living in urban areas and extremely
limited access to basic services. Disaster response following
the earthquake has not tackled the extreme structural
violence that exists in rural areas, and Hurricane Tomas
further destroyed livelihoods of rural communities. People
moving from displacement camps in the city to living in a
tent in the countryside have not really moved out of
homelessness, they have just moved.
IOM Assertion: 'Surviving in poor living conditions during
the long hurricane season has persuaded many to seek
alternative housing solutions.'
Fact: Homeless people are always seeking 'alternative housing
solutions.' Camp conditions even before Hurricane Tomas and
the cholera outbreak revealed that displaced Haitians were in
camps because they had no 'alternative housing solutions.'
According to a study conducted by CUNY Professor Mark
Schuller before both Hurricane Tomas and the outbreak of
cholera, 40% of displacement camps did not have access to
water, and 30% did not have toilets of any kind. Only 10% of
families even had a tent, many of which were ripped beyond
repair during the hurricane season; the rest were sleeping
under tarps or even bed sheets. A study conducted even
earlier by the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti
found that 78% of families lived without enclosed shelter;
44% of families primarily drank untreated water; 27% of
families defecated in a container, a plastic bag, or on open
ground in the camps; and 75% of families had someone go an
entire day without eating during one week and over 50% had
children who did not eat for an entire day.
Human rights promise housing, not just forcing people away
from displacement camps. Haiti needs practical and
sustainable solutions for re-housing along with services and
protections for the people still homeless.
One year later, it is critically important for the
international community to assist Haitians to secure real
housing. The million homeless Haitians and the hundreds of
thousands who have moved out of the large homeless camps into
other areas are our sisters and brothers and still need our
solidarity and help.
* Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional
Rights, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and
a long-time Haiti advocate.
Jeena Shah is a lawyer serving in Port au Prince as a Lawyers' Earthquake Response Network Fellow with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
Source: CommonDreams.org, January 11, 2011; www.commondreams.org
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