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The promise of shelter


Two years after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, thousands of families have left the camps and found livelihoods. Thousands more live in their original neighbourhoods. But nearly half a million people are still living under canvas, plagued by violence, rain, floods and the threat of eviction. For them, what has happened to the promises and the hope?

“I’M LOOKING FORWARD to living in a real neighbourhood,” says Fabienne Joseph, 28. “The environment here isn’t good for my son. It will be better for him when we move.”

Joseph has spent the past two years living in a tent with her husband and small son after the house she rented was destroyed in the earthquake. “Here when it rains, we get wet or flooded,” she says. “It’s also not safe; anyone can come and steal your things.”

In a few weeks the family will be moving to a rented property in Delmas 32 with the support of a resettlement grant from the IFRC. The house, made up of two rooms and a small porch, will cost 30,000 Haitian gourdes (US$ 750) to rent for a year.

“I couldn’t move out before as I didn’t have the means or resources — otherwise I would have left this camp already,” Joseph continues.

Building momentum

Stories such as Joseph’s are one reason the camp population in and around Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince is estimated to have been reduced to just over half a million, down from the high of 1.5 million at the beginning of the emergency. This huge decline reflects, in part, the rapid increase in the pace of shelter solutions, which have enabled hundreds of thousands of people to leave camps.

Overall in Haiti, 125,000 families have reportedly been given improved shelter, with the IFRC alone reaching more than 25,000 families. The vast majority of these shelter solutions were achieved in the last 12 months.

Despite the frustration over the slow pace of reconstruction, there are many signs that momentum is building. Community construction teams are now fully trained and production pipelines are in place ensuring the speedy transport of materials around the country. The painstaking process of identifying, and where possible securing, land has been carried out, meaning construction has finally scaled up.

But it’s not easy. Securing suitable land has posed considerable problems, which are rooted in Haiti’s complex land-ownership laws and customs. Haiti lacks almost all of the key attributes of a functional, civil land system. Haiti’s housing and land-ownership crisis was not created by the earthquake, but it was profoundly exacerbated by this catastrophic natural disaster.

“Transitional shelters, while criticized by some for not being a long-term solution, have been a vital part of the shelter strategy, which has helped to get people out of tents and unsafe living situations,” says Xavier Genot, the Movement’s shelter coordinator in Haiti.

“Some 100,000 families have been rehoused in transitional shelters, meaning their living conditions have improved dramatically,” he adds. “In the same time frame, it has only been possible to rebuild or repair a few thousand permanent houses.”

But how to ensure this momentum increases and continues? The majority of those displaced are based in Port-au-Prince where space is at a premium. There simply isn’t enough room to continue with large-scale transitional shelter programmes, which have provided a lifeline to thousands of people without shelter.

For rent: repairs needed

It’s also important to remember that before the earthquake, roughly 80 per cent of the current camp population was living in rented accommodation. Landlords, however, often require a year’s down payment — impossible for a camp resident who lost everything in the earthquake and has no meaningful income.

The IFRC therefore is providing grants to help people pay their rent, complemented by financial support to rebuild livelihoods. This has helped thousands of families to leave the camps. But many rentable properties were badly affected by the earthquake and have yet to be repaired.

“If collectively we have learned one lesson from the shelter response in Haiti, it’s the need for flexibility in our approaches,” says Genot.

“The Haitian context is unique and we quickly learned that we needed to adapt our response to meet the specific challenges and opportunities of this operation,” he says. “The IFRC had to develop a wide range of shelter options covering emergency shelter, rental support, transitional housing, support to move to the provinces, house repairs and even permanent housing.”

Still, there’s still a desperate need for a variety of shelter options.

“Providing improved shelter for those displaced by the earthquake remains the top humanitarian priority and enormous progress has been made,” says Eduard Tschan, head of the IFRC delegation in Haiti.

“But the pace of house repairs and reconstruction must increase,” he continued, “otherwise, large-scale camp decongestion programmes, including that of the IFRC, will undoubtedly slow down in the coming months.”

A more stable foundation?

The past 12 months have seen significant changes in Haiti. The camp population has been reduced by nearly two-thirds, a new government has been sworn into power and there has been an overall decrease in the number of cholera cases reported.

While adversity is never hard to find in Haiti, signs of progress are clearly visible. According to the latest Early Recovery Cluster estimates, nearly half of the 10 million cubic metres of debris generated by the earthquake has been cleared. The piles of rubble blocking roads and covering the landscape have been visibly diminished.

New small businesses and shops line the streets of Port-au-Prince and, in some of the most prominent camps, a few empty tents are the only reminder of the hundreds of thousands of people who once lived there.

The politics of reconstruction also has a role to play in the speed of Haiti’s recovery. While a new Haitian president was sworn into power in May 2011, political instability continued to affect the pace of recovery efforts. The appointment of a prime minister in particular was subject to intense political tension and subsequent delays, which meant that many other key positions also remained unfilled.

Progress toward a stronger, more stable government appeared to be underway at the beginning of 2012, giving donor nations more confidence about finalizing a major aid package. But the subsequent resignation of the prime minister in February raised questions about the government’s future stability. Nonetheless, a  new government unit for housing and public building construction, for example, has recently been established, along with an official national plan to support camp decongestion. The ‘16/6 project’ aims to support the closure of six camps in Port-au-Prince and renovate 16 neighbourhoods.

The IFRC is supporting this initiative by working in Camp Mais Gate, which was home to nearly 2,000 families. More than 1,500 families have already left the camp, primarily through rental support. But what about the future? Can Haiti expect to see a country free of camps in the coming months or even years? The existence of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Haitians without shelter cannot only be seen as an aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Haiti has long faced a major shortage of housing solutions. A significant number of people were without adequate housing in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake, as people flooded into the capital in search of work.

“The truth is that tens of thousands of people are likely to remain in camps and some larger camps are likely to become permanent settlements, shanty towns or even slums,” says Tschan. “The government of Haiti and local authorities must identify the camps which might become de facto permanent settlements and develop ways of integrating them in urban planning and development.”

The IFRC is also calling on the government to play a greater role in bringing together recovery actors in Haiti to engage in a reconstruction framework. This is even more crucial now that the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission has ended and renewal is still under discussion.

Insufficient housing solutions

The progress made in rehousing displaced people over the past 12 months is encouraging but it is widely accepted that there are currently not enough housing solutions planned to meet needs. Currently, around 40,000 additional shelters are planned by aid agencies working in Haiti but more than 127,000 families remain in camps with many more displaced outside the camps.

The IFRC is increasing its shelter targets to reach a total of 37,000 families, with a focus on rental support and housing repairs. This will include helping people to move back to their neighbourhoods. IFRC recovery programmes involve local residents and government officials in renovating their neighbourhoods, integrating key services such as shelter, sanitation, water, livelihoods, health, education and risk-reduction solutions.

In Delmas 30, home to dozens of families who live in tightly packed houses along a maze of alleyways and streets, this work is well under way. The ravine of Delmas provides a staggering backdrop, with hillsides piled high with rubbish and debris as far as the eye can see.

For the past six months, IFRC teams have been working with residents on some of the immediate needs, establishing a community-driven programme for the long-term renewal of the neighbourhood. The immediate priority has been improved shelter. So far, 162 transitional shelters have been built, packed into the neighbourhood and adapted to fit whatever space is available.

Problems to fix

Marlene Lottee, 42, and her three children recently returned to Delmas and moved into one of the transitional shelters. “We have lots of problems here in the neighbourhood we need to fix,” says Lottee. “But the main thing is we need to get latrines, water and electricity.”

Planned renovation projects include improved drainage and clean-up of the ravine. The local authorities are collaborating closely on the project and work is scheduled to begin in early 2012, employing builders, masons and labourers from the local community.

Livelihood support is also under way through cash grants and vocational training. Lottee sells foodstuff: just outside her small home, spaghetti, cornflakes and cookies are laid out on display.

“The business is small but I feed my children with the money I make,” she explains. “Before the earthquake I had a good livelihood and I’d like to grow the business I have now. I know I can do this, I can make a success of my business.

“My two eldest children have always gone to school but they can’t go this year due to a lack of money. The difficulties I face are the difficulties of life here. Life is hard.”

By Becky Webb
Becky Webb is an IFRC communications delegate based in Port-au-Prince.

The IFRC has been working to help residents at the Mais Gate 8 camp in Port-au-Prince to resettle into better homes. The size of the camp has been steadily dwindling. Still, many families remain in this neighbourhood of tents that Redens Fritz Pierre gazes over during his rounds as a camp committee member.
Photo: ©Ben Depp/IFRC









“Enormous progress has been made.
But the pace
of house
repairs and reconstruction must increase.”

Eduard Tschan, head of the IFRC delegation in Haiti










At the La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince, the IFRC supported a team
of builders, all of whom are deaf,
to construct shelters in 2010.
Photo: ©Ben Depp/IFRC










“I can make a success of my business.”
Marlene Lottee, 42-year-old a mother of three who lives in the Delmas 30 neighbourhood













28-year-old Fabienne Joseph and her son outside a rented property that she secured with help from an IFRC grant.
Photo: ©Becky Webb/IFRC























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