One year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, more than a million people remain homeless. 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 everywhere.
UNICEF estimates that more than 1 million people -- "380,000
of them children" -- still live in displacement camps. "The recovery process," 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 in 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, such as in 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 housing.
These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading
but threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year after Haiti's
Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an
opportunity to examine some of the many important housing challenges still
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 progress.
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 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 altogether, going home to the
regions. Others sent their children to
the countryside for a better life."
Fact: Before the earthquake, Rural Haiti was home to 52% of the population, 88% of which was poor,
and 67% of those extremely poor. Rural
residents had a per-capita income one-third of the income of people living in
urban areas and had 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."