Families Evicted from Displacement Camps Build New City in the Desert
By: Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye
Port-au-Prince, Haiti: A few months after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Haitian Government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the support of the American Embassy, created what at the time they called a model transition camp for internally displaced people (IDPs).
Several thousand victims, the majority of who came from the IDP camp at the Petionville Golf Club near the home of the American Ambassador at that time. With the promise of jobs and houses, Camp Corail-Cesselesse was the first camp created in the area. A thirty minute drive from the downtown Port-au-Prince, Camp Corail has turned into a catastrophe four years later: the promises of job creation from the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and American Embassy have been unfulfiled, and the Haitian Government’s promise to build decent infrastructure including sanitation for the area have also fallen short, and they have provided nothing better than the temporary solutions of NGOs.
Kanaran, or Canaan, is one of the largest new shantytowns in Haiti. Kanaran is an extension of Corail that has grown over the years. People began to come to the area when they saw that people at Corail received brand new tents from the NGOs and Haitian Government. One by one, families began to arrive and put their tents up, one after another.
Today Kanaran is one of the largest neighborhoods, with anarchic construction that follows no guidelines or principles. The number of people living in Kanaran is a mystery, party because it is difficult to assess the population without any institutions providing oversight for the land or construction of houses in Kanaran.
Kanaran and Corail have basically become one large community now, and may become the largest popular (or impoverished) neighborhood in the country in a few years if there is no intervention by the government to put the brakes on the unsupervised construction and illegal sale of land in the area.
Kanaran has all kinds of people living in it, but the majority of the families there are people who were evicted from IDP camps and had no alternatives to relocate. Brianvi Philonène, 37 years old, is a mother of three who lived in an IDP camp at Delmas 2 since January 15, 2010. After nineteen months in that camp, the landowner evicted everyone from the land.
“I work in someone’s house to make a little money, but I don’t have enough to pay for a house,” explained Brianvi. “After I was evicted from the camp, I had no choice but to find another place to live. When I came here along with some of my neighbors from the camp, we found broken bottles and weeds and it was us who cleaned the space. I came here to live in this desert because I don’t have money and I don’t have any other option.”
Many people who received a payment of 20,000 gourdes (approximately $500 U.S.) from NGOs or the government to leave their camps ended up in Kanaran. There they have purchased a little land and built a small lean-to as a way to protect their families from the sun and rain. But at the same time, many profiteers have entered the area as well, buying land and building large houses.
The living conditions in the community are very grave – there are no toilets, no access to water, and it is extremely hot due to the deforestation. When the wind blows it can destroy tents and small houses that are not well constructed. Dust is a major cause of illness in the area that is like a desert. When it is windy, people breathe in large quantities of dust because the heat makes it impossible to stay under a tent or inside the small windowless houses.
Ronal Georges is the father of two children and he is currently unemployed. He is surviving because of his aunt, Marithérèse, who supports him and helps his family survive. With nasal congestion and a fever for two weeks, Ronal has been forced to stop looking for work.
“One of the biggest problems in the community of Kanaran is unemployment,” said Ronal. “It has been a long time since I have worked but I have been searching and searching and I can’t find anything. We know we came to live in tents in the desert and we knew that meant we wouldn’t have hygienic conditions, but without work we are dying of hunger. In the next few days I will go to Mirebalais even though I know the situation is even more difficult in the provinces. Whenever I find enough money to pay for the bus, I am going to go.”
Since 2010, it has been the promise of work in the area that has been the basis for the expansion of Corail and Kanaran, which today are basically one community. Kanaran is divided into five blocks, and it continues to grow daily without any decision by the authorities who should be concerned with stopping the expansion.
Desperation is the reason so many have been obligated to follow a series of promises that give nothing but more problems. Today, the tracks of the NGOs are almost invisible in places like Kanaran and Corail, despite the fact that these communities are the direct result of the policies of the NGOs towards IDPs, with the support of the Haitian government.
Kanaran is not only a problem because it is a zone without laws or any supervision, but also because it is a place that is frequented by many people as Haiti tries to relaunch its tourism sector. There is no immediate solution possible, but if nothing is done in Kanaran, it may become another Cite Soleil.
Walvens Charisma is 26 years old and he is a young teacher at the Mixte Cristal School. He declared, “Our future is really not clear here in Kanaran, not only because of the quality of life we have here but also because of how the area is developing. There is no one responsible for anything – it is everyone for himself here, and any day the government could come and force us of this land the same way they are evicting people now in downtown Port-au-Prince."
See the evolution of Corail and Kanaran in our Story Through Images: