Tag Archives: OCHA

Haiti early recovery linked to turning the corner in the countryside

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two months on from Haiti’s earthquake, the practical contours of a strategy to find durable solutions for the displaced appears to be taking shape. In essence, the plan seems to be to work from the establishment of safe transitional shelter sites toward permanent reintegration of those who remained in Port au Prince and other affected towns, on one hand, while seeking to provide an economic basis for those who left the towns to remain in the countryside, on the other. Whether or not this approach can now be said to represent an explicit article of international and Haitian government policy, the building blocks are clearly being put in place.

Judging from the latest OCHA situation report, increasingly targeted interventions may be yielding some encouraging results. A March 12 IASC contingency planning meeting brought together international, government and civil society actors to identify at-risk groups and “gaps where preparedness is needed in anticipation of the rainy/hurricane seasons.” Two days later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes visited Haiti to assess humanitarian relief efforts. An international donor meeting will take place at the New York UN Headquarters at the end of March in order to secure funding for an impressive list of needs including schools, infrastructure, roads and power, as well as assistance to cover the government’s payroll for teachers, police, doctors, nurses, civil servants and basic services.

Shelter materials have been provided to some 63% of those in need and the shift from general food distribution to food and cash for work schemes is set to be scaled up next month. Child protection measures and monitoring of gender-based violence in camps are also being expanded, along with vaccinations, nutrition programs, health interventions and efforts to provide clean water and sanitation. Schools are slated to reopen in April. However, the question of securing safe and legally secure transitional shelter sites appears to be becoming more acute as the rainy season approaches:

The relocation of 200,000 persons currently displaced in high risk settlements requires a minimum of 600 ha. So far 220 ha have been identified by the Government. Of the five sites that were identified by the Government for relocation, two have been secured and surveyed. MINUSTAH will soon start works in Tabarre Issa. The other three sites are still under negotiation.


There are still insufficient human resources for site planning and development as well as of Social Engineering staff to facilitate the movement of the population to the new sites. The lack of new land allocation is of concern in respect [of the] imminent raining season.

Outside of the towns, the FAO reports in a new press release that ongoing seed distributions currently targeting 180,000 smallholder farming families are meant to be complemented with longer horizon programs supporting reforestation, increased food production and community watershed management. The short term objective of these programs is to speed an exit from large-scale food aid, but the longer term goals are set in ambitious terms as the creation of a “greener, more productive Haiti”. Critically, the PR notes that these goals are meant not only to benefit the settled rural population but also the more recent influx of urban IDPs:

During his visit, [FAO Head] Diouf and Minister [of Agriculture] Gue signed the Leogane Declaration, signaling the commitment of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together on short-, medium- and long-term programmes aimed at increasing food production, supporting the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and building a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector and promoting long-term investment.

However, this strategy involves a high-stakes up front gamble. If agricultural production cannot be ramped up quickly enough during the next weeks and months, food insecurity will likely result not only for those displaced from the capital but also the host families they currently depend on. The latest OCHA report described the precarious situation of rural host families, based on a recent survey by CRS:

Approximately 78% of respondents reported hosting an average of 5.6 displaced persons. This has put an enormous strain on household coping strategies with the vast majority of households eating less, selling belongings (including possessions, livestock, grain reserves) changing their diet, and using trees to make charcoal.

The assessment reveals that the pressure on host families has compelled farmers to make changes in their normal agricultural practices.  Farmers are now reducing some inputs such as fertilizer and tillage. They are also shifting to short season crops and prefer lower cost seeds (such as maize) while avoiding high cost seeds (such as bean). Overall, although land cropped remains the same, the land being cropped per household member has dropped dramatically. According to analysis made by CRS, these new trends could result in a dramatic drop in household income and increase food security.

In a separate press release, FAO describes a recent appeal by its Director-General, Jacques Diouf, for an integrated rural development programme in Haiti to be funded through the dedication of a portion of the $20 billion pledged for farmers in poor countries  by the G-8 leaders in Italy last July. While it is likely that this proposal will receive a sympathetic hearing at the upcoming donors’ conference, the fate of an agriculture-centric early recovery plan may hang in the balance in the next few months.

Given the current difficulties in providing safe transitional shelter for those IDPs who remained in towns, crop failures could provoke a disaster in the form of further influxes, both of returning urban IDPs and new migrants from the countryside. Long poor and neglected, Haiti now finds itself in the extraordinary position of entering the second decade of the 21st century with its  fortunes standing or falling on the outcome of a single growing season.

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.”

Pastoral peoples’ rights and livelihoods

This week’s earlier posts have focused fairly extensively on the recent “Endorois communication”, by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, in a case that involved the land rights of of pastoral indigenous group in central Kenya. Among other sources, the decision relies on the findings of the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Communities/Populations. This body drafted a report that was adopted by the Commission in 2003 as its official policy on indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa. One interesting detail in the report (also cited in para. 150 of the Endorois case) is its identification of pastoralism as one of the specific characteristics of African indigenous groups.

… those groups of peoples or communities throughout Africa who are identifying themselves as indigenous
peoples or communities and who are linking up with the global indigenous rights movement are first and foremost (but not exclusively) different groups of hunter-gatherers or former hunter-gatherers and certain groups of pastoralists. (page 89)

There has been a good deal of attention to pastoralism in Africa recently, including the OCHA-led Pastoral Voices project which released a report yesterday focusing on mobility in the Horn of Africa in light of drought conditions and security issues:

An on-going collaboration between UN-OCHA, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is taking this concern forward through the Security in Mobility project. The inter-agency project promotes pastoralists’ internal and cross-border mobility needs as a climate change adaptation. And it also advocates for regional cross-border security needs to be reconciled with pastoralists livelihood needs.

Meanwhile, at a more global level, the FAO yesterday released its State of Food and Agriculture report, which focuses on the need for greater investment, research and governance “to ensure that the world’s livestock sector responds to a growing demand for animal products and at the same time contributes to poverty reduction, food security, environmental sustainability and human health”. Here, again, land issues and climate change adaption measures figure in strongly:

There is a need to enhance the efficiency of natural-resource use in the sector and to reduce the environmental footprint of livestock production, the report says. The goal is to ensure that continued growth in livestock production does not create undue pressure on ecosystems, biodiversity, land and forest resources and water quality and does not contribute to global warming.

Not to be left out, the pastoralists of the world themselves appear to be uniting and have started not one but (at least) two websites, namely those of the League for Pastoral Peoples and the Pastoralist Communication Initiative.