Haiti: Despite aid, many still in squalid camps

By Emily Dugan

This week will mark two years since Haiti was ripped apart by an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 but it has the hallmarks of a place in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

More than half a million people are living in squalid camps, vulnerable to attack and disease; around 200 people are diagnosed with cholera ever day; and, according to the UN, half of the rubble left from destroyed buildings has yet to be cleared.

Inside the camps, sexual violence and other crime continues to be a problem. The tightly packed temporary settlements are hard to police, and a flimsy tarpaulin or tent wall offers little protection from intruders.

Conditions are so desperate that many will go to any lengths to seek a better life. Last week 128 Haitians were returned home after being found by the coast guard attempting to flee to the United States aboard a sailing boat.

The failed escape is one of many recent attempts, the most deadly of which took place last month, when 38 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Cuba. The remaining 90 were sent home.

The international community has already given more than $3 billion in humanitarian aid in response to the quake, though this is barely half of the nearly $6 billion pledged after the disaster.

Despite what has already been invested, witnesses describe Haiti as looking more like a country two months on from a natural disaster than two years.

Perhaps the biggest setback was the cholera epidemic - a plague that has itself been blamed on foreign intervention.

Cases of cholera had not been reported in Haiti for nearly a century before the outbreak in October 2010. Now nearly 7000 people have died from the disease in an epidemic that is one of the worst in recent history.

The arrival of the highly infectious diarrhoeal disease has been widely attributed to a camp of United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal, and lawyers representing victims demand that the UN pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

On top of the deaths, more than 520,000 cholera cases were reported by the Haitian government up to December. Jon Kim Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organisation, said it was one of the largest cholera outbreaks in modern history to affect a single country.

The earthquake itself killed about 316,000 people, a toll supplemented by the thousands who have died from disease thanks to unsanitary living conditions.

The country has been called "The Republic of NGOs" as it has a higher ratio of aid workers per capita than anywhere else. At the height of the crisis about 12,000 people from aid agencies were working in the country. This figure has made it even harder for observers to comprehend how around 520,000 Haitians could still be subsisting under tarpaulin.

Bill Quigley, legal director of the American human rights organisation the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who has been working with community groups in Haiti, said: "International intervention has been a colossal failure for hundreds of thousands of people.

I don't think anyone would have believed that two years afterwards, when you look at all that the international community has said and done, and at all the money that has been raised around the world, it would be such a bad situation for hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of people.

"Haiti would be clearly worse off if the international community had not joined in to help. That said, you couldn't walk down any street in Haiti and believe that US$2 billion had been raised."

Quigley is one of many legal campaigners who believe part of the reason Haiti's rebuilding has slowed is that Haitians themselves have been marginalised in the process. Only 1 per cent of the money donated was given to the Haitian Government, and a similar proportion is estimated to have gone to Haitian organisations.

"Concern about corruption in the Haitian Government is legitimate, but if you don't want to partner with government you have to look to civil society," Quigley said.

"Haitians are hired as drivers and security; they're not full partners in this work. And because of that what recourse do people in Haiti have? The international community has come and spent money and done what they wanted to do. You can't just skip the Government; it has to be built up and there has to be partnership."

Although the number of Haitians living in camps has decreased by 66 per cent since July, when it peaked at 1.5 million, the rate at which people have left the internal refugee camps has slowed in recent months.

In the last four months, the population living in temporary tents and under tarpaulin has fallen by only 6 per cent. Complicated rules over land rights - and a lack of stable government in the year immediately after the quake - have made it harder for resettlement to happen quickly.

Because the earthquake hit an urban area, where many people had already been living in cramped, sub-standard housing, there is still an enormous amount of uncleared rubble blocking development, making the search for suitable land even more difficult.

It was always obvious that the clear-up would not happen overnight. Almost 300,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged, with 80 per cent of the capital's schools and 60 per cent of hospitals. Before the earthquake hit, Haiti was already ranked 145th out of 169 countries on the UN Human Development Index, making it the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite these challenges, big questions remain over why the country is not further along the path to reconstruction. Romain Gitenet, head of mission at the medical aid organisation Medecins sans Frontieres, blamed some agencies for being too slow to react to the disaster: "If you thought after two years things would be rebuilt, you'd be wrong.

"Things are not rebuilt at all. After the earthquake and the cholera you expect NGOs to react quickly but most don't react quickly. Sometimes we felt alone at these critical moments at the beginning of an emergency."

Many international organisations privately blame the Government and the new President, Michel Martelly, for the delays in getting people into stable accommodation.

One senior figure working for an international charity in the country said: "The new Government has done very little to get people out of the camps.

"The President has very little experience of politics; he's a singer."

But Leonard Doyle, of the International Organisation of Migration, believes the regime has turned a corner. "The current Government is very together, certainly in contrast with other times. They are managing to get people out of camps at a rapid rate and two really prominent camps are now nearly empty."

Doyle now believes that the only way to ensure a future for the country is to start encouraging business and breaking up the culture of dependency that has been built up around aid organisations.

- INDEPENDENT

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VICTIMS OF QUAKE BACK IN SHACKS

In the first year after the quake, the previous Haitian Government never set up a housing agency or a clear housing strategy.

The camps swelled because foreign aid groups were delivering what the Government didn't: water, latrines and electricity.

Former President Rene Preval identified five plots of land for new housing but obtained only one.

Of the 10 best-funded projects approved by a reconstruction panel, not one focuses exclusively on housing. A US-financed US$225 million ($288 million) industrial park includes housing for 5000 workers. But it's on the northern coast of Haiti, 240km outside the quake zone.

The highest-profile effort to house the displaced came three months after the quake. The US military, and actor Sean Penn, arranged to bus 5000 people from a flood-prone golf course to a cleared field in Corail-Cesselesse, north of Port-au-Prince. It was supposed to be the country's first planned community, with factories and houses for 300,000 people.

That never happened.

Today, the people of Corail-Cesselesse are ravaged by floods or bake in the heat in their timber-frame shelters. They are far from the jobs that sustained them before the quake. They speak of abandonment and lack of services.

The new Haitian Administration has begun building two housing projects: 400 homes by the bay and another 3000 at the foot of a deforested mountain. The Government says US$40 million ($51 million) in Venezuelan aid will be used to develop the southern coastal town of Jacmel in the hope of decongesting the capital of three million people.

But the Government's overall strategy now is to move quake survivors back into their old neighbourhoods, even if many of those were slums before the quake. That skirts the land title issue, makes infrastructure cheaper and puts people closer to old friends who might help them find work.

This comes in the form of a housing project in Port-au-Prince called "6/16." The Government and aid groups are moving residents of six camps into 16 neighbourhoods to be redeveloped. Several thousand people have already left three settlements.

- AP

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