Still Moving out of the Rubble

Haiti’s displaced population has dwindled but the overall living standards have not improved

Tents sprawled from the earthquake. © Adam Cole  2010

A scene from the side of the road. Many tent villages sprung up wherever people could set down a tarp. There are now have the locations there once were, but reports show that there still are 707 sites © Adam Cole  2010

The more time passes, the deeper the pain is felt by those whose lives are stuck in the same impoverished reality.

It has been two years since a powerful earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing an estimated 300,000 and displacing more than 1.5 million.

Instead of celebrating progress, much of the population is wondering when homes will be made for them. Of the $10 billion pledged at the time of the earthquake, only a fraction of it has been spent on recovery efforts. More than 500,000 remain in post-earthquake tent camps while the rest of the original grouping of displaced have relocated to designated temporary shelter locations, back to neighborhoods where they once inhabited, or resettled in the countryside. The ones that remain in tents and even those that have been relocated to better but still temporary accommodations are the ones that are discontent and troubled; they have lost faith in a government that has promised to serve them, though many keep faith that the One above will deliver them of their ills.

A central issue to the discontent is land. The government has failed to identify and subsequently issue land to the people for resettlement purposes. Instead, open land is tangled in bitter disputes, with no legal way to resolve who owns what. Those that do have solid claims to land end up evicting tent dwellers, often without notice.

In the government’s defense, there are signs of progress in what has mammoth undertaking of recovery. According to Time magazine, tent camps, once scattered in 1,555 places, are now half that at 707 sites; more than 100,000 temporary or transitional shelters have been built; about 13,000 houses have been repaired and more than 4,600 have been newly constructed.

Of note is the 16/6 resettlement program, which seeks to relocate people from six tent villages into 16 original neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. Tied into the relocation is the redevelopment of those 16 neighborhoods. The program is predicated on an idea that it is easier to move people into already existing communities, so that the strength of those communities can uplift those that are coming from the tents.

In the end, there is no easy solution, though there seems to be a multitude of solutions on the table—like 16/6—offered to help ease this struggle. In addition to the myriad of ways to solve the housing crisis, is the question of who is going to pay for it all: the Haitian government, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or the people themselves?

The people, many of whom make less than $2 a day, do not have the means for home ownership.

Meanwhile sanitation is getting worse and worse in the camps. The people have spent two years fighting for daily subsistence under a tarp-like home and are desperately crying out for something better.