Tag Archives: Haiti

Week in links – Week 30/2011

Discerning TN readers will have noted that the blog has now clearly gone into summer mode (even if its slightly workaholic administrator has, regrettably, not entirely managed the same trick). In any case, I’ve tried to keep track of a few interesting items, below, for what should now properly be called the ‘month in links’.

It’s also my pleasure to announce an upcoming guest-posting by Veronica P. Fynn, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Internal Displacement. Veronica will introduce the journal and highlight some of the property issues covered in its first edition (full disclosure: my recent NRC report on Liberia is under consideration for reprinting in a forthcoming edition).

And now, some HLP highlights from July 2011:

– Beginning with UN Special Mechanisms, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter has published an article in the Harvard International Law Journal on “The Green Rush: The Global Race for Farmland and the Rights of Land Users“.  Mr. De Schutter introduces the piece with a nice summary in Opinio Juris, in which he suggests the need to move beyond decrying the global land rush phenomenon to seeking ways to minimize its negative impact on local communities. However, Katharina Pistor’s response in OJ highlights significant obstacles to such approaches, both at the level of politics and of theory.

– Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik recently followed up on her report on the right to housing in the wake of conflict and disasters (posted on here) with a trip to Haiti in which she appealed for an end to forced evictions and endorsed a proposal by UN-HABITAT for a “comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and return”. A further report on post-disaster housing issues is said to be shortly forthcoming.

– UNHCR recently called for the creation of “new tools” to address the effect of climate change-induced displacement. The agency also released a report noting the 80% of the world’s refugees now find themselves in developing countries and that protracted displacement is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

– Although the most recent coverage of Kyrgyzstan on TN related to the defensive and unconstructive reaction of the national government to a critical report by an international Commission of Inquiry on last summer’s violence in the country’s south, the local response apparently continues to deteriorate as well. EurasiaNet now reports that the authorities of the city of Osh, where the violence against ethnic Uzbeks reached its peak, have rediscovered their infatuation with an urban master plan from 1978. The failure of the authorities to stop a heavily armed mob from demolishing centrally located Uzbek neighborhoods, while regrettable, now presents an opportunity to build  high-rise housing, and reconstruction – even with the prospect of Asian Development Bank funding – is not on the agenda.

– Keeping on the theme of bad behavior, Israel gets the latest award for innovations in forced evictions (previous honors went to Cambodia for the use of dredging machines). BBC reports that Bedouins in the Negev Desert now not only face regular demolition of their homes but will also be expected to foot the bill for this important public service.

– On a more positive note, BBC has also reported on a recent decision by the Cuban government to allow open sales of homes and cars in Cuba. In a follow-up piece, the BBC described the pressing need for such reforms in a setting where the previous system of exchanges with government approval and without money changing hands fostered informality and corruption. As noted previously on TN, BBC coverage has not addressed the issue of historical claims by exile Cubans that may exist against some of the properties involved. Thus, it is only possible to speculate on whether Cuban privatization now may serve a similar dual purpose to Cambodian privatization in the late 198os, where investing current users with greater rights also served to dilute the claims of exiled historical owners.

Week in links – Week 22/2011

– A Guardian investigation shows that British firms have now secured more land in Africa for biofuels than those of any other country. Unwanted publicity, it seems, particularly in light of Oxfam’s simultaneous citation of biofuel production as a factor in an ongoing food crisis that may see the prices of staples double in the next two decades.

-In the long gap since my last postings on Haiti, the basic dynamic of urban IDP camps settling into informal settlement status is little changed, but the resulting tensions appear to be coming to a head. By November last year, tenure insecurity in IDP camps had become so rife that a coalition of rights groups sought and received a directive from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the Haitian authorities to “stop evicting earthquake survivors from camps unless they are provided safe and adequate shelter.” However, last week Beverly Bell of Other Worlds reported on a series of violent and systematic forced evictions of IDPs in the Delmas district of Port au Prince. The evictions were ordered by local mayor Wilson Jeudi, who justified them by disputing the humanitarian vulnerability of the residents:

Jeudi called the camps “disorderly” and claimed that many of those in the tents did not actually live there. “They just come to do their commercial activities [thievery and prostitution] and go back to their homes in the evening.”

The mayor said that no compensation would be offered to those ousted from their temporary shelter. “We were all victims of the earthquake,” he added.

-Meanwhile, a leaked USAID-commissioned report appeared to give some support to Mr. Jeudi’s diatribe, alleging not only that the death toll from the quake was less than one-third of the officially reported 316,000, but also that only 895,000 IDPs moved into the IDP camps after the quake with 375,000 remaining now (compared with IOM’s numbers of 1.5 million original residents and 680,000 current). Most interesting to Mr. Jeudi, the report also “suggests many of those still living in tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.” The report is not yet officially released due to the need to address apparent inconsistencies.

– The BBC carries a rather sad story about Palestinian refugees engaged in a lawsuit not be able to return to the village they fled in 1948 – a point they appear to have largely conceded – but to prevent others from living there in its proposed reincarnation as a luxury housing development.

The week in links – week 40/2010

A fairly modest crop after a busy week:

  1. Oxfam’s turn to ring the alarm on the numerous risks entailed by Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum …
  2. … and to promote reconstruction of the agricultural sector in Haiti in a new briefing paper.
  3. UNHCR comments on how protracted conflict situations are creating a ‘new global refugee’ population.
  4. FAO and WFP comment on how protracted crises involving chronic hunger and food insecurity affect twenty-two countries worldwide “due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions”.

Admin note – FAO on Haitian agriculture and upcoming guest-blog on the Quilombos case in Brazil

Following on to my prior post on Haiti, FAO has now reported that rural reconstruction continues to lag behind in Haiti, primarily due to lack of funding. In doing so, the FAO describes its cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and “over 170 non-governmental and international organizations” (!) in the agricultural cluster, providing an interesting example of an attempt to make the occasionally arcane terminology of humanitarian reform a bit more accessible to the general public.

Also interesting is the fact that investments in rural agriculture continue to be justified both on the basis of the decentralization concept and food security. In the words of FAO Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Haiti Etienne Peterschmitt, “[g]reater investment in agriculture and the creation of jobs in rural areas are needed urgently to stem the flow of displaced people back into Port-au-Prince and to support food security throughout the country.” In addition, the FAO remains cognizant of the strain that hosting IDPs has placed on rural families:

“Immediately after the disaster hit in January we focussed on areas directly affected by the earthquake,” said Cristina Amaral, Chief of FAO Emergency Operations Service. “Now we are focussing on assisting host families whose coping mechanisms were severely strained by the influx of displaced persons into their communities and to prepare for the hurricane season.”

In other news, I am happy to announce that TN will soon be hosting a guest post on the Quilombos case in Brazil by Leticia Osorio and César Augusto Baldi. The post will give a thorough background briefing on the case involving the Quilombos indigenous people that is currently pending before the Supreme Court of Brazil. The forthcoming decision will determine the constitutionality of Presidential Decree 4887 of 2003 which regulates the procedure for granting property titles to Quilombo communities over the lands they occupy. The authors have also promised a follow-up guest posting once the Court’s decision is issued.

Haiti post-quake land issues emerge into the mainstream debate – UPDATED

NB: Yesterday’s New York Times reports that a fairly minor storm hit the planned shelter area referred to in the below post earlier this week, destroying hundreds of tents and rendering about a quarter of the IDPs resettled there homeless. Several people were injured – and one infant killed – by windblown debris and lightning. Camp managers have taken this as a wake-up call and the construction of sturdy transitional shelters may begin as early as today. The article does not clearly address how the many squatters in the area in flimsier shelter fared, or whether any measures are being considered to protect them from more serious storms that are thought to be on the way.

by Rhodri C. Williams

Six months after the Haiti quake, the significance of land disputes to reconstruction now seems to be sinking in. This is highlighted in a fascinating Washington Post article on the problem of finding land to resettle earthquake IDPs in Port au Prince.

The piece focuses on Corail-Cesselesse, an area north of the capital that has been designated to be a new “Zen city” (I’m not making this up!), combining planned housing for quake-affected persons with access to jobs in a new manufacturing zone. So far, this has led to an initial planned transfer of IDPs from particularly dangerous (or objectionable?) camps followed by a large-scale incursion of squatters hoping (and encouraged?) to stake out their piece of a bright new future.

The article is particularly illuminating on the nature of land disputes, with powerful interests close to the government that won contracts to manage the development process facing resistance from the owners of the land in question. Thus, while IDPs and squatters are present more in the way of pawns than as direct parties to the dispute, they bear the brunt of the resulting violence. To paraphrase the article: Continue reading

IOM on Haiti – relocation of vulnerable community thwarted by land dispute

Many thanks to Peter van der Auweraert at IOM for bringing the below IOM Press Note, dated 02 July 2010, to my attention. It provides a rather vivid depiction of the less than constructive role of Port au Prince’s large landowners in the effort to provide transitional shelter to victims of the January earthquake (as alluded to yesterday in my post here).


When armed thugs allegedly hired by landowners threatened violence on IOM staff and support workers earlier this week, a sensitive operation to rescue families from a desperate situation came grinding to a halt.

Some 263 families cling precariously to life in Parc Fleurieux; their sad tents hug the bank of a football field that’s flooded with stagnant water contaminated by a nearby open sewer. Women wash their clothes in a muddy creek using water that emerges from the grime of Port-au-Prince . Naked children wander through the camp scratching at skin infections, while residents suffering from malaria and other illnesses sit bleary-eyed in their tents.

The Haitian Government, IOM, international and non-governmental actors agreed that the health situation of the group was critical and that urgent action was required to prevent a public health crisis. After discussion with the local mayor, a location was found on an informal space with room for extra families and work on preparing the site with gravel and drains began.

Once force was threatened during the voluntary relocation, the whole operation was called off pending negotiations with the landowner’s representatives. It was left to Renald, the 29-year old elected site representative to break the disappointing news to his fellow residents. An eloquent man who speaks fluent English and French and Creole, he says he has been both homeless and unemployed since the 12 January earthquake.

Continue reading

Haiti reconstruction stalled by land disputes

by Rhodri C. Williams

Haiti’s summer rains, long described as looming, threatening and impending are apparently now simply falling. And in the meantime, the reconstruction of affected areas – and particularly the efforts to move thousands out of exposed camps and into planned transitional shelter areas – appear to have stalled entirely. According to a recent AP story, a report prepared for the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee painted a grim picture:

Millions displaced from their homes, rubble and collapsed buildings still dominating the landscape. Three weeks into hurricane season, with tropical rains lashing the capital daily, construction is being held up by land disputes and customs delays while plans for moving people out of tent-and-tarp settlements remain in “early draft form[.]”

The report notes that while basic humanitarian assistance is being provided, the reconstruction effort has stalled, and attributes much of the blame to both the government of Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Along with former US President Bill Clinton, Mr. Bellerive co-chairs the newly constituted reconstruction commission proposed in the UN donor conference for Haiti in March.

In an interview with AP, Mr. Bellerive acknowledged criticism of the failure to provide transitional shelter to quake victims but claimed that “officials are working hard behind the scenes to ensure reconstruction does not simply mean the rebuilding of barely livable slums.” However, international officials appear to be growing impatient with the government’s inability to deliver land for shelter purposes; indeed, the government’s expressed scruples about not recreating slums seem a bit far-fetched given the conditions under which quake survivors are currently living.

Continue reading

Dye mon, gen mon – Land and shelter issues remain critical in post-quake Haiti

by Rhodri C. Williams

After blogging quite a lot on Haiti up till the New York donors’ conference back in March, my attention wandered a bit to other issues and regions. However, its been impossible to avoid noticing a steady drumbeat of reports over the last weeks indicating that a number of key pillars of the shelter and durable solutions strategies endorsed in New York seem to be faltering just as the new rainy season closes in on the beleaguered country.

Rebuilding after a disaster of the magnitude of Haiti’s quake will inevitably be a fraught process, subject to setbacks and delays. Even in relatively better off and better prepared Chile, IFRC reports that shelter and health issues remain a serious concern for those affected by the February quake there. But what is painful about the current impasse in Haiti is how quickly the cautious optimism generated in the run-up to the donor conference seems to be bogging down in a slurry of indecisiveness. Reading about it, I keep recalling a rather sad little Haitian proverb a colleague kept quoting in my grad school days of yore – back in the 90s when pre-quake Haiti was already seen as a basket case. “Dye mon, gen mon” went the title of her thesis: beyond the mountains, more mountains.

I began refocusing on Haiti after coming across an IHT editorial in mid-May that noted that the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the quake remain, by and large, displaced. According to the editorial, only 7,500 people had been moved out of dangerous and overcrowded tent cities in the capital to planned transitional shelter areas due to the failure of the government to acquire appropriate sites, as well as the destruction of property records and growing neighborhood resistance to letting indigent newcomers put down roots. Meanwhile, the failure of humanitarian agencies to shift their operations beyond the capital was undermining the great decentralization plan, as urban IDPs began trickling back from the rural areas where they had found shelter in order to access aid.

Continue reading

More on the Haiti donor conference

For those of you interested in a somewhat more straightforward presentation of the Reconstruction Plan than that set out in my ramblings of yesterday, I can recommend a very good piece by Colum Lynch in yesterday’s Turtle Bay. Lynch also links to an editorial by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in the Washington Post that even more explicitly posits ‘build back better’ as a founding ideology for Haiti’s refounding:

In partnership with the international community, Haiti’s leaders are committing to a new social contract with their people. That means fully democratic government, grounded in sound economic and social policies that address extreme poverty and deep-rooted disparities of wealth. It also means fair and free elections, conducted with U.N. help, preferably by the end of this year.

This social contract must empower women — as heads of households providing for their families, as entrepreneurs developing businesses, as advocates for the vulnerable, with full rights as decision makers in evolving democratic institutions and civic action organizations. It must offer new opportunities for economic advancement — above all, jobs. The U.N. cash-for-work program should be a model. At the end of the day, only Haitians can build Haiti back better.

Haiti’s leaders are well aware that this new partnership requires a commitment to good governance, transparency and mutual accountability — between the government and the governed, between the public and private sectors, between Haiti and the international community. It requires fresh approaches to long-standing problems. Among them: the future of Haiti’s overcrowded capital. If Haiti is to flourish, social infrastructure and economic development must be dispersed from Port-au-Prince to regions and cities throughout the country. That is why Haiti’s national plan contains ample provision for environmental recovery, land reform, and new investment in fisheries and agriculture.

Watch this space! In the meantime, if any readers will be attending the New York conference and would be interested in guest-blogging on the reception of the plan and discussions surrounding decentralization, please contact me.

Leadup to the Haiti donor conference – ‘decentralization’ as central to reconstruction

by Rhodri C. Williams

With the donor conference for Haiti’s long-term reconstruction just two days away, there has been an interesting burst of information on where joint international and national policy to deal with displacement and rebuild the country’s economic base is going. For those who have followed my previous blog posts and the broader media on Haiti, there are unlikely to be any big surprises in New York on Wednesday, and a bit more in the way of confirmations that today’s emergency response programs are translating into tomorrow’s policies.

The New York Times came out with an editorial on Saturday noting the hefty bill that will be tabled – $11.5 billion up front and $34.4 billion over the next decade – but observing that it is presented in a new spirit of modesty in which the international community, along with the Haitian government, is clearly marking its intent to do things differently and better. According to the editorial, the goal of the conference must be “to sweep out the old, bad ways of doing things, not only those of the infamously corrupt and hapless government, but also of aid and development agencies, whose nurturing of Haiti has been a manifest failure for more than half a century.”

Rightly or wrongly, the past six years, including the installation of the MINUSTAH peacekeeping force in 2004 and the elections that brought sitting President Rene Preval to power in 2006 appear to have been lumped in with previous decades of international indulgence of domestic mismanagement. To be fair to MINUSTAH and the Preval Government, the outset condition of the country shattered by last January’s earthquake could have been worse. In late 2004, for instance, the ICG was still predicting that the failure of MINUSTAH to deploy on time could render Haiti “a failed state haemorrhaging refugees to the U.S.” Three years later, by contrast, the ICG could still credibly warn of the risk of a “slide back into all too familiar chaos”, but the talk was of “consolidating stability” and building on economic reforms.

Nevertheless, a fresh and considered start is welcome, and one is almost tempted to wonder if some of the breast-beating about failed past policies attributable to many of the same actors shaping the new ones does not serve some kind of cathartic purpose. As observed here earlier, the relationship between the odd couple responsible for the forthcoming reconstruction is full of potential awkwardness. Perhaps this forced marriage between rich, confident international agencies and a weak, cash-strapped government will be more palatable if both sides draw an explicit pre-nuptial line under their past failings. And, needless to say, a note of humility may also be helpful in overcoming any residual skepticism on the part of donors and policy-makers.

On the international side, there certainly are a few grounded apologies to be made and some room for concern about the absorption of past lessons as well. As reported by Reuters here, one of the revelations during the lead-up to the conference has been former US President and current Haiti envoy Bill Clinton’s admission that pressure by the US and international financial institutions to open the Haitian economy to subsidized agricultural imports had devastated viable domestic production:

Experts now acknowledge that the influx over the past two decades of subsidized cheaper farm imports, ushered in by World Bank and International Monetary Fund free-trade policies that obliged Haiti to open its markets, delivered a virtual death blow to Haitian agriculture from which it has never recovered.


On a visit to quake-stricken Haiti this week, former U.S. President Bill Clinton recognized that the United States and international financial institutions like the World Bank, albeit well-intentioned, had been wrong to push developing states into opening their markets to cheap subsidized imports.

During his presidency from 1993 to 2001, he said he had signed legislation that had effectively increased the penetration of American rice into Haiti, which decimated that country’s own rice production.

“I think it was a mistake, I think it was part of a global trend that was wrong-headed,” Clinton told reporters, adding he was now looking to boost Haitian farm output by providing seeds and fertilizer through his own charitable foundation.

While Clinton’s support for the FAO’s proposed rural development plan, posted on here, appears to represent a meaningful break with past development policy, the New York Times recently reported on a less savory aspect of the reconstruction in the form of a reinvigorated ‘peacekeeper economy’ in Port au Prince. According to the Times, the vagaries of the quake have led to the city’s largest tent camp – with a population of over 40,000 – being set up on the grounds of a country club in Petionville, traditionally something of a playground for the capital’s elite. As the international relief effort becomes institutionalized (and just search ReliefWeb’s job postings by Haiti if you don’t think that is happening), this is bound to highlight some awkward contrasts:

Haiti has long had glaring inequality, with tiny pockets of wealth persisting amid extreme poverty, and Pétionville itself was economically mixed before the earthquake, with poor families living near the gated mansions and villas of the rich.

But the disaster has focused new attention on this gap, making for surreal contrasts along the streets above Port-au-Prince’s central districts. People in tent camps reeking of sewage are living in areas where prosperous Haitians, foreign aid workers and diplomats come to spend their money and unwind. Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.


And on the floor above [a] casino, a nightclub called Barak, with blaring music and Miami-priced cocktails, caters to a different elite here: United Nations employees and foreigners working for aid groups. They mingle with dozens of suggestively clad Haitian women and a few moneyed Haitian men taking in the scene.

As hundreds of displaced families gathered under tents a few yards away, the music of Barak continued into the night. A bartender could not keep up with orders for Presidente beers.

So, with all these background factors in mind, what of the plan that will be tabled on Wednesday? The full English translation of the ‘Action Plan for the Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti’ is now available for download here. It appears that the Paul Collier proposal I mentioned in an earlier post has been taken on board, with a joint international and national interim recovery commission meant to coordinate aid and evolve into a national development authority in the fullness of time. Broader involvement of Haitian civil society is another central plank, although some skepticism appears to remain in the run-up to the conference. Finally, and of most interest from a housing and land perspective, ‘decentralization’ – in the form of encouraging those displaced to the countryside to remain there – has become an explicit article of policy.

In fact, decentralization and broad-based participation are discussed with a fervor that verges on the messianic. The plan notes that the devastation wrought by the earthquake were due not only to its force by also the fragility of a society marked by high population density, inadequate building codes, bad land use practices, environmental degradation, and profound economic imbalances in which “over 65% of economic activity and 85% of fiscal revenue [were] concentrated in Port-au-Prince.” An expanded version of decentralization is then posited as the solution; ‘build back better’ on an essentially constitutional level:

To rebuild Haiti does not mean to return to the situation of January 11, on the eve of the earthquake. It is to address all these areas of vulnerability, so that never again the vagaries of nature or natural disasters inflict such suffering or cause so much damage and loss.

The proposed plan aims to go beyond a response to the damage and losses caused by the earthquake. It aims to initiate projects to act now while putting in place the conditions for addressing the structural causes that allowed this earthquake to hit the country so hard.

The situation that the country is facing is difficult but not desperate. In many respects it even provides an opportunity to unite Haitians of all classes and origins in the common task of “refounding” the country on a new footing. Nobody has been spared, and no one can pick themselves up again alone. We must build on this new solidarity which is expected to result in profound changes in behavior and attitudes,

That is why the plan that is being proposed is not solely that of the State, of the Government and of Parliament. It is that of all the sectors of Haitian society where everyone is called upon to play his role, in search of the collective interest that ultimately is the best guarantor of individual interests in an inclusive society.

While the terminology appears to be a somewhat ad hoc reaction to the circumstances of the quake, the idea behind ‘decentralization’ is not new. As late as April 2009, for instance, ICG advocated “investing more external aid in rural development to stem the flow of migrants to urban slums” in a report on the security implications of Haiti’s environmental degradation. Under the current circumstances, e.g. with rural-urban migration not only stemmed but partly reversed, retaining the current status quo seems a matter of simple common sense. As stated in the NY Times editorial:

There are too many people in Port-au-Prince. Haiti needs new population centers, less congested and more vibrant. The failure to build safe housing for earthquake survivors is a continuing tragedy; the time to start fixing it is now, far from the capital.

It is hard to take issue with the necessity of decentralization, particularly now while humanitarian workers are still scrambling to ensure safe transitional sites for those who remained in quake-affected towns. As described in the latest OCHA update, this effort continues to be slowed by delays in identifying safe and legally available sites, as well as ongoing discussions over criteria and procedures for safe relocation from existing spontaneous camps.

However, over the medium term a degree of care will be necessary to avoid the potential for two of the key planks of the recovery plan – decentralization and broad-based participation – to avoid coming into conflict with each other. As discussed in a recent post on Liberia, return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) can neither be forced nor prevented barring exceptional circumstances. As with all non-displaced Haitian citizens, IDPs enjoy the right to freedom of movement and choice of residence.

In this context, the arguments for decentralization may be good, but they must ultimately be compelling to the displaced persons in question themselves, not just civil society groups or international donors. The international community and the national authorities have done a good job putting together a sensible plan in a hurry. On Wednesday, the donors will vote with their pocketbooks, and after that Haiti’s disaster IDPs will vote (or abstain) with their feet.