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Failure to Aid Haiti’s Earthquake Homeless

Nearly 5 years after the quake, IDPs continue to be evicted from camps despite no sustainable housing solutions or meaningful construction reforms 

By: Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye

Port-au-Prince, Haiti: More than 20,000 victims of the earthquake on January 12, 2010 are living under the threat of forced evictions from the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) where they live, according to the August 14 bulletin from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As we are approaching the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, the situation for thousands of victims has never been ameliorated. Of the 172 camps that are officially recognized that house 104,000 IDPs, thirty-nine are facing the threat of immediate eviction.

The Martelly-Lamothe government has been very successful in dealing with the most visible of the IDP camps, and this has made the question of homeless earthquake victims still living in camps a less important subject in the national dialogue as well as for the international community.

Not offering a sustainable solution for IDPs wasn’t a problem in forcing them to leave camps, on the contrary, it created another problem: many places that should have been temporary have become permanent. Areas like Corail and Kanaran, which received the great majority of IDPs who were evicted as well as those who received a small stipend to leave the camps, have turned into large bidonville, or shantytowns, and no one even knows the true number of people who are living there.

The Haitian government has treated the internally displaced population in a discriminatory way, even more so considering the very serious dangers that families living in camps face in terms of the cholera and Chikungunya epidemics and the hurricane season.

Many people think the challenge of displaced people living in camps is in the past, but in reality this isn’t true at all – it isn’t an issue people are talking about because there is no money to help IDPs anymore. It is no longer a good way for NGOs to raise money, and the government has ceased creating propaganda about the positive outcomes of their efforts. Many NGOs have left Haiti along with funds they raised to help victims of the earthquake, and there are NGOs that up until now are still sitting on funds they raised to help the survivors, yet up until now they haven’t done anything with the money.

The failure of NGOs and the Haitian government to create a sustainable solution to Haiti’s housing crisis can be interpreted in many ways, one is that the disaster was a good way to raise funds and play politics, creating a market for NGOs and politicians.

Construction in Haiti continues to be a disaster, and despite the catastrophe of January 12, 2010, there have not been any major reforms put in place to prevent people from losing their lives when another major earthquake happens.

Nearly five years after the terrible events in 2010, the Haitian government has missed a huge opportunity to bring about positive and meaningful reforms for housing construction, and has also missed the chance to show the world that Haiti can treat its most vulnerable families with respect and dignity.



Luckner Romain: Small Business, Big Dreams

By: Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye

This is the best season for Luckner Romain: during these hot summer days, he can sell six, seven, even eight bags of water each day.

Luckner is selling small bags of water and he began with a large sack of these bags worth 150 gourdes ($3.60 USD). He will make a profit of between 80-100 gourdes ($1.90 - 2.40 USD) if none of the small bags are torn. At the same time, Luckner might return home without a single gourde, because he is walking and selling water bags downtown by the Champ de Mars, one of the most difficult places make a living in Port-au-Prince.

Luckner left Jacmel after twenty-eight years in January 2014 only to find massive unemployment in Port-au-Prince. He was in search of a better life, and he arrived without any money. His first work in the capital was wiping the dust and dirt off of cars. After he had saved a little money, he decided to start selling water bags instead.

“I chose the best path for life: work,” Luckner explained. “Without work you can’t progress. I come from a family that knows how to raise livestock, and that was our livelihood for several years until our business fell apart in our hands and we didn’t have any land to plant anything. If I had even a small piece of land, I would work on it--because even though we depend on the rain, when a person has a dream, you have to work to get those results.” 

Luckner has a smile on his face when he speaks about his dreams. When I ask for more details, he talks about restarting his family’s livestock business, which has deteriorated, even if he has to rebuild it one animal at a time.

A family business that had forty animals only five years ago no longer exists today. There are several reasons that the business fell apart, including illness in the family, environmental problems, and no veterinary care for the animals. 

At the moment the business fell apart, Luckner had a little bit of money saved as part of a plan to realize his dreams. Despite the fact that he didn’t share the amount of money with me, you can get an idea. A business that began with a lot of water bags worth 150 gourdes ($3.60 USD) six months ago is the opposite of hopeful today.

There was one question that I insisted on understanding at the end of our conversation: How was Luckner eating, sleeping, communicating? I wasn’t surprised to learn that he doesn’t have a house to sleep in; he sleeps in the street or with some friends who also live in the street. As for the question of food, it all depends on what is in his pocket and how much he makes each day. If he sells enough tonight, then tomorrow he will start the day with 25 gourdes ($.60 USD) of food he can buy on the street and 5 gourdes ($.03 USD) of juice from a woman selling food in the marketplace. According to Luckner, she makes some of the best street food in the area, and he invited me to eat one day with him. I promised to try and come by. 

Sitting on the Champ de Mars at the Place Dessalines, you can see several hundred people walking up and down, making their best effort to find a living for themselves and their families with small businesses and big dreams and responsibilities. It is the situation that the vast majority of the Haitian population faces, and according to national and international institutions, they are living on less than $2 a day.

An injection of funds and training for these small-scale entrepreneurs is one of the most effective ways to strengthen our economy because these are people who have experience and determination to work with dignity to ameliorate the conditions of their lives without being dependent on NGOs or the government. How can these people survive on less than $2 a day? In Haiti, almost everyone has their own small business, and the spirit of neighborhood konbit --community working together as a team--is the motor of resistance.

It is difficult to estimate the value of the business Luckner’s family had, but what is clear is that he has a plan to rebuild it. One water bag at a time, Luckner is becoming more determined to rebuild his business and make it successful again.


Where Are They?

By Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye

A few weeks after the earthquake, it was impossible to walk across any street in Haiti and not bump into an expatriate. Young, old, male, female. “Foreigners saving Haiti” was their anthem.

After the devastating earthquake of 2010, NGOs raised billions of dollars in the name of poor Haitians. The arrival of aid workers, mostly from the U.S., was like a carnival parade. They were everywhere, from the streets to the church. Today, as always, there are a few expats left in Haiti. But, the majority is gone, and there are reasons for this phenomenon.

Considering Haiti is a country with a very low quality of education, any expat can come to Haiti and call himself or herself an expert. He or she can easily can set up an NGO and go into business--from directing an orphanage to becoming a fake human rights advocate.

Over four years later, it seems like all of the enthusiasm about saving Haiti wasn’t real at all. It was mostly business as usual. Now the expats, like the relief money, are gone, the NGOs having wasted billions of dollars on themselves.

It’s fair for people to go to other places to find jobs, but the problem is the hypocrisy when it’s done in the name of humanitarian aid or human rights. Expats in Haiti are very privileged. If they’re white, it’s a plus for them. They don’t operate under any Haitian laws or pay taxes. Most of them don’t have legal papers to work in Haiti or even be in the country legally.

Expats contribute to lawlessness in other, more significant ways, too, from drugs to prostitution. And, not all of them come here just to work and pretend to help. Some come to find boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives--an unfortunate reality endemic to the North-South relationship.

In some cases, expats treat the people and civil groups they work with the same way that their governments treat our government. It’s a mentality problem: the superiority, the assumed exceptionalism, and the belief that they always know what is best for other people.

For sure, there are some good people who come to Haiti to help and do good work. No one can deny that or pretend they’re all the same.  The fact is that less disaster means less money, and less money means that the expats have all but disappeared.


Kanaran: Haiti’s largest new shantytown

Families Evicted from Displacement Camps Build New City in the Desert

The author, Etant Dupain, interviews residents of Kanaran.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:


Ban Ki-moon heads to Haiti, offers an apple for an orchard

By: Wesley Laine

A few days ago, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Haiti. It was his first visit to Haiti since the cholera outbreak. During his trip, the Secretary General toured the “Sports for Hope Centre”, a project of the International Olympic Committee. Additionally, in the same sports complex, Mr. Ban inaugurated the newest class of Haitian recruits poised to take their first step toward joining the National Haitian Police (HPN).

During his remarks, the Secretary General emphasized that the Haitian State will have to show the people that it can enforce the law and demonstrate that in a democratic nation, no one – including political authorities and the police themselves – is above the law. The Secretary General’s remarks echo one of the core guiding principles of the United Nations establishment—the rule of law. Or perhaps what it once proudly stood for, prior to the egregious mishandling of the Haitian cholera disaster.

The numbers continue to increase with each passing day, more than 700,000 have gotten sick and over 8,500 Haitians have lost their lives since October of 2010. And despite indisputable evidence that negligence by the United Nations leadership and its peacekeepers are responsible for introducing the vibrio cholera bacterium in Haiti’s largest and most important river, Mr. Ban has refused to own up to his responsibilities as the head of one of the most important international institutions of our age.  

The Secretary General, in a very real sense, is entrusted with the power and responsibility to make meaningful the moral force of the world community. For four long years, the people of Haiti have patiently waited for Mr. Ban to acknowledge them as dignified human beings deserving of an apology and compensation for their suffering. So far, Mr. Ban has lacked the courage to recognize the humanity of the Haitian victims and their inalienable right to justice—outlined in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Perhaps it is well to ask whether Mr. Ban understands how much the Haitian people have suffered. It appears that the Secretary General is unable to come to terms with his own natural human empathy. On different occasions, he has offered half-hearted words of regret, deferred questions to UN lawyers, and offered to mobilize donor countries to fulfill their pledges for the dysfunctional cholera response plan. On this particular trip to Haiti, the Secretary General spent time playing Ping-Pong inside the new sports complex with the country’s prime minister, avoiding protestors braving the scorching heat to demand accountability and justice.

To deal with the tragic cholera crisis, the UN needs a Secretary General who is willing to look unblinkingly at the circumstances, confront the realities, face the tears of the wounded, and harness all stakeholders to a great collective effort toward justice. Unfortunately, Mr. Ban has shown that he is unfit to be that leader. It is easy to forget now, but this is essentially what happened in past failures, especially at the leadership level, of the United Nations to take bold actions to stop genocides or other wrongful acts. In all these failures, the passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen responsibility, or turn victims into villains.  

The task of strengthening justice lies with all of us, and especially with those who are entrusted with leadership positions. The Secretary General’s failure to lead has damaged the credibility and mandate of the United Nations. Moreover, it has set a terrible precedent for future peacekeeping efforts.

Most of the cholera victims in Haiti are people living in settings of chronic poverty, which are, by definition settings of structural violence. They have suffered enough. Suffering does not ennoble, it embitters. The cholera crisis has destroyed homes, left orphans, and deepened refractory poverty in countless communities. Consequently, the majority of Haitians have called for the departure of the UN troops.

Without an apology and a plan for compensation, it is clear that Mr. Ban’s trip to Haiti, which he called ‘a necessary pilgrimage’, was a photo-op and an attempt to save face. Furthermore, it shows that the Secretary General is out of touch with the plight of the poor and the daily struggle of Haitians to have access to clean water. The empty promises of the Secretary General are not going to stop the lawsuit filed in New York on behalf of the victims.

 In Haiti, many may live in poverty, but they are not poor people. They are proud and hard working people. The Secretary General went to Haiti, hoping to trade an apple for an orchard. Mr. Ban, we do not do that in this country. We want justice.

Wesley Laine is from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and founder of the grassroots nonprofit group Haiti Philanthropy Inc. He is a student at the Sciences Po Law School. He is a recipient of the Davis Peace Prize Fellowship for his project, “Cholera Prevention: Service, Solidarity, and Peace.”