Haiti one year on: Rape crisis festers on

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was jolted and broken by an earthquake which killed 230,000 people. Today, despite pledges of billions and the presence of thousands of aid groups and missions, its people's plight is a festering global scandal.

Twelve months after the quake wrecked 350,000 homes and left at least 1.5 million people homeless, 87 per cent of the survivors are still living in dangerous tented camps.

Dozens of rapes are committed every day, and so much rubble is uncleared that what remains on the ground, clogging any serious reconstruction, would fill trucks which would stretch halfway round the world. All this in a country which, staggeringly, hosts tourists from cruise ships.

A new report published by ActionAid says: "In the capital Port-au-Prince, between 1.3 and 1.7 million people continue to live in increasingly squalid tents with little hope of moving to transitional shelters. Less than 30,000 of those displaced have found permanent homes. There is no strategic plan for shelter, land disputes are widespread and tonnes of rubble needs clearing, much of which is thought to contain human remains."

It added that "until the Government frees up the land needed, we are forced to spend donations on replacing tents and other piecemeal measures designed to help people get by in overcrowded camps".

The two great obstacles to getting people into permanent shelter are the vast quantities of rubble and land disputes. The quake created 20 million cubic metres of rubble, and less than 5 per cent of this has been cleared. International agencies, which have the resources to start building more permanent housing, also face huge problems obtaining permission from landowners because more than 70 per cent of campsites are on disputed land. The country's dysfunctional land registry has fallen apart since the earthquake, and forged documents and multiple claimants are commonplace.

Even the state does not know how much land it owns, which helps to explain why only 30,000 of the 2.5 million displaced people have found permanent shelter. To put this into context, Indonesia took five years to replace 139,000 houses destroyed in Aceh by the 2004 tsunami. In the developed world, six years after the 1995 earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe, people were still living in temporary accommodation because property claims had not been settled.

The Government has used emergency powers to appropriate private land for government buildings, shops and offices but so far not for housing. Haiti was a dysfunctional state before the quake, and 28 out of 29 ministries and their records were destroyed in the disaster. But aid agencies cite a frustrating lack of government urgency. In an attempt to navigate Haiti's corruption record, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, led by former United States president Bill Clinton and the Haitian President, was established to supervise all major projects in line with goals identified in the Government's recovery plan. But the plan is out of date and contains no information about budgets and expected completion dates, according to ActionAid.

The system of delivering money has been painfully slow, lacks transparency and is inaccessible for ordinary Haitians. Housing, land issues and preventing violence against women are not priorities in the recovery plan. In addition, United Nations figures show that only half of the US$2.1 billion ($2.8 billion) pledged for Haiti's reconstruction has been disbursed; money from France, the US and Saudi Arabia is only trickling in now.

Jane Moyo, lead author of the ActionAid report, said: "There is an overwhelming sense that Haiti is drifting. People are surviving but survival is not enough; we also have to rebuild.

"There was an opportunity after the earthquake to make real difference but it is slipping away. Unless something is done about housing and jobs, Haiti will sink lower. A city overwhelmed by thousands of encampments, run by gangs and landlords is a real possibility and that is the way to a failed state."

Already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, over the past year Haiti has fallen five points in the world's poverty league from 140 to 145 out of 182. Moyo said: "Before the earthquake, 80 per cent of basic services were supplied by NGOs. There were few jobs before; there are none now. It feels like the Government has given up and is waiting for international community to do their job. This really is a broken a society."

Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon appointed an independent panel to investigate the source of a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 3300 people. International medical efforts stopped the spread from surging through the camps. But the UN's reputation has taken a hit as many blame the cholera outbreak on its Nepalese peacekeepers. And women and girls have also felt abandoned by the peacekeepers as sexual violence has exploded, particularly in the camps where reports of gang rapes by armed young men are common.

Even before the earthquake a survey found more than 50 reported cases of rape every day in the capital. Poor security, crowded accommodation, no lighting and shared toilet facilities in the camps has led to "double the problem", according to Yolande Bazelais, president of grass-roots organisation Favilek, a Creole acronym for Women Victims Rise.

An Amnesty International report published last week found thousands of women terrified to go to sleep because tents offer not even basic protection. Javier Zuniga, head of Amnesty Internationalis delegation to Haiti, said: "With more than 1 million people living in tent cities, but only three of these cities meeting international standards for safety, space and basic needs, they absolutely provided the conditions for rape to flourish."

'NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS'

DANIELA'S STORY

Her home was destroyed in the earthquake but, since she owned the small plot of land where she is now living and retained the deeds, ActionAid was able to build a model transitional shelter. "When we were living under corrugated iron sheets I had skin problems and was constantly feeling ill," she said. "Since moving in, my health has improved and I'm no longer sick."

JOSEPHMONA'S STORY

Josephmona is living in a tent. None of her children, aged 13, 9 and 6, go to school. "We're desperate. People say there is land outside the city but it's not just about homes. It's about jobs as well. The Government doesn't seem interested. If we wait for them to act we will die before it happens. Only ActionAid came along. No one should have to live like this."

- INDEPENDENT

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 28 Dec 2014 06:38:17 Processing Time: 420ms