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
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.