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Haiti’s Earthquake Victims: ‘Abandoned Like Stray Dogs’

PETIT-GOAVE, Haiti, Aug 24 2011 - Eighty thousand tiny houses dot the countryside near this coastal city, located just west of the epicentre of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that killed some 200,000 and displaced over one million.

Petit Goâve camp resident Louise Delva points to riverbed, which she and others use as an open latrine. Credit: Courtesy of Haiti Grassroots Watch

Petit Goâve camp resident Louise Delva points to riverbed, which she and others use as an open latrine. Credit: Courtesy of Haiti Grassroots Watch

These mini-homes – one-room “T-Shelters” (transitional shelters), meant to last three to five years – cost over 200 million dollars to build and today reportedly house 80,000 of the families displaced by the earthquake that damaged or destroyed at least 171,584 homes.

The Bill Clinton-led Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) has approved 254.5 million dollars worth of housing repair and reconstruction projects that will reportedly fix, upgrade or build about 41,759 housing units.

The new government – led by President Joseph Michel Martelly – recently organised “Reconstruction Week”.

Among other activities, Clinton and Martelly inaugurated a “housing exposition” with over 60 model homes and a new mortgage programme called “Kay Pa M” (My House).

Does all this activity mean the reconstruction is off to a good start? Will the 634,000 people still living in Haiti’s 1,001 camps, and the undoubtedly tens of thousands of others living in unsafe and even condemned structures, soon move to safe housing?

Louise Delva, a mother of five who lives in the Regal camp here, isn’t aware of any plans meant for her, or for tens of thousands internally displaced people (IDPs) like her.

“They’ve abandoned us,” Delva said, disdainfully, as she gave a tour to community radio journalists from the Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) consortium. “These are the sordid conditions we live in,” she said, pointing into a dark, fetid tent crammed with belongings, two mattresses, and a machete.

“When the rain comes, we’re in danger. Look how close we are to the riverbed,” Delva added, gesturing to the mostly dry ravine camp residents use as an open latrine. As she spoke, two children were hunched down over the rivulet.

This week, Hurricane Irene spared the part of Haiti where Delva and hundreds of thousands of others share makeshift camps. But that doesn’t mean the families aren’t in danger from the next hurricane, and from cholera which continues to rage through Haiti. Most of the country, and all of the 1,001 camps, lack adequate sanitation facilities.

“In early June we had 21 active cholera cases here,” Guyvlard Bazile, president of the Regal camp committee, told the HGW journalists.

Agencies Absent

Although it’s no longer making international headlines, the cholera menace still looms large here. Over 300 people are hospitalised each day, and as of Aug. 8, 2011, 426,285 people had been infected and at least 6,169 have died.

But early this summer, the humanitarian agencies that cleaned out latrines and provided healthcare and water had pulled out of most of the country’s camps because, they said, they lacked funding.

In fact, as long ago as last March, the U.N. Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned that “most of the funding to partners to support sanitation, water trucking activities and camp management will be exhausted by June 2011,” adding: “If sanitation activities come to an end, open defecation, indiscriminate disposal of faeces, cholera contamination and insecurity, particularly women seeking to find a private place to excrete, will increase.”

But, according to OCHA’s own tracking, humanitarian agencies’ “water and sanitation” programmes in 2011 have already received over 40 million dollars.

Bazile said he doesn’t understand where that money, and the agencies, have gone.

One agency – IEDA (International Emergency and Development Aid) – is at Regal. IEDA is the “camp manager,” but with only two latrines serving hundreds of people, no clinic, and one water spigot, it was difficult for HGW journalists to spot evidence of “management”.

“They come to see if we have pregnant women who have difficulties, how many people are sick, who needs to go the hospital,” Bazile explained.

In an email with HGW, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – which also oversees all the camps – confirmed that IEDA has “one camp manager whose responsibility is to be each day on the camp, to get information through the committee and their community, and then to share it with the different actors.”

While IOM did not have IEDA’s budget figures available, public records indicate that so far this year, IOM has received over 20 million dollars for its work in camps and with camp populations.

Bazile said that IOM is also “present” at Regal. “IOM sometimes calls us, too. Like, if there is a storm, they call afterwards and ask ‘How are things? Did the rain do any damage?’ They ask a lot of questions, but don’t really do anything,” he said.

Horrific Conditions in Camps

There are hundreds of camps like Regal, and all of them lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. A March study by the agencies noted that: Only 48 percent of the camp residents had daily access to an adequate supply of potable water; Only 61 percent of that water had the correct amount of chlorine, meaning that it runs the risk of being contaminated by and transmitting cholera; On average, 112 people had to share a single camp latrine; Only 18 percent of camps had hand-washing facilities; and only 29 percent of camps had a disposal system for “solid waste.”

The numbers for Petit-Goâve are even worse: 141 people per latrine, 185 people per shower.

“Instead of getting better or even staying neutral, I think we’re going backwards,” Bazile said.

Plans Leave Out Haiti’s Poorest

In addition to living in subhuman conditions, most of the over 634,000 people still in the 1,001 camps are likely not part of the planned reconstruction projects – which include almost 70,000 new or repaired housing units – because most of them were renters, and renters are not part of the “Neighbourhood Return and Housing Reconstruction Framework”.

In addition, HGW journalists discovered: Even if all of the planned repairs and construction of 68,025 units takes place, that will account for only about 22 percent of the 304,060 victim families counted up in the camps last fall. (Today there are less people in the camps due to various factors, including the expulsions of over 50,000 people, and the return of thousands of families to unsafe lodgings.)

At least 5,400 of the planned new or repaired units are actually slated for Haiti’s North Department – far from the earthquake epicentre and its victims, but right next to the where foreign companies are planning a new industrial park with low-wage assembly factories.

The 116,000 T-Shelters have gone to many deserving families, but most were landowners or homeowners prior to Jan. 12, 2010, and over half of the 304,020 displaced families counted last fall – over 173,000 of them – didn’t own a home or land. They’ve been left out. Also, there have been numerous documented cases of “T-Shelter corruption”, where the houses are broken up and the lumber sold off or rented.

No single agency – national or international – is the point institution on reconstruction of housing, although it appears that progress is finally being made in that sense.

Delva, who didn’t get a T-Shelter, and whose rotting tent leaks, has practically given up hope. “They say we have leaders? We don’t have leaders in this country. They’ve abandoned us, like a stray dog.”

*This article is part of a four-part series, in French and English, at

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media.

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