Haiti update – emergency response criticized as transitional measures get underway

Refugees International recently issued a new report, Haiti: From the Ground Up, which examines the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti and makes a number of recommendations for improving the international response. Coverage in today’s NY Times emphasized the fact that this report, like an earlier Human Rights Watch report on shelter issues, took the UN to task for lapses in coordination and prioritization.

The analysis in both reports has highlighted housing, land and property (HLP) issues related to shelter needs and durable solutions for the displaced. The Human Rights Watch report focused more narrowly on the need to ensure that sites for camps are lawfully acquired as well as suitable and safe for human habitation. However, the Refugees International report places displacement and HLP issues in a broader context, referencing the implications, described earlier in this blog, of the reverse urbanization that resulted from the quake:

Some 700,000 people in Port-au-Prince are without homes or proper shelter and another 600,000 people have left the capital. This has important implications for the overall development of the country. While the main focus of the humanitarian response has been on the Port-au-Prince area, the protection of displaced and affected families in the provinces requires both immediate assistance and longer term investments. The UN should increase its efforts and support existing activities to identify the needs of displaced people throughout the country.

Tents are in short supply in the settlements for displaced people both in the capital and in the provinces. Most people who have lost their homes sleep under makeshift dwellings of sheets and sticks providing little protection from the rain. The sanitation in the camps does not meet minimal international standards. The need for shelter poses immense logistical challenges and is intrinsically linked to land ownership and property rights, affecting both urban Haitians whose homes were destroyed as well as rural Haitians who depend on land for farming.

However, displaced people are not only in camps. Large numbers have sought refuge with relatives and friends who are quickly running out of resources. Refugees International has learned that families in Papaye, in Haiti’s central valley, now have on average 20-26 people in their homes. In Saint Marc, some 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the mayor has been organizing community support for the internally displaced. More than 25,000 have been registered, living in some 7,000 households. Refugees International also visited a school that remained closed because it housed displaced families. Such situations create a strain on already limited resources and infrastructure.

***

If support is not channeled quickly into the provinces, the displaced will return to Port-au-Prince. This would only compound the challenges of distribution and coordination across the city, where at least 75 percent of the buildings have been destroyed and the ability to provide humanitarian assistance while protecting IDPs is overstretched. If support is invested in provincial communities, it will create a draw for those living in the Port-au-Prince camps to the provinces, lessening the strain in population-dense Port-au-Prince, while allowing for decentralized coordination and support of the displaced and host communities. ….

“Decentralization” has been the hot topic for the majority of Haitians. The infrastructure outside of Port-au-Prince is weak, and the capacity to absorb and support internally displaced people (IDPs) from the quake-impacted regions is thin. Within a disaster of this magnitude, however, exists the opportunity to support a decentralization movement and country-wide infrastructure investment that will not only provide urgent protection and support for IDPs, but will also address the imbalance in national development that contributed to great loss and vulnerability of Haitians in the Port-au-Prince area.

Meanwhile, the latest OCHA report contained mixed news. While concerns are mounting over the impending rainy season and the continued need to provide agricultural support to respond to the displacement-driven rural crisis, the report also noted that increased food distributions were giving way to food-for-work programs and that the Prime Minister had “approved five plots of land to set up transitional settlements, as well as eight plots to collect and treat debris in the metropolitan area.”

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