The January 12, 2010 earthquake rendered more than 1.5 million Haitians homeless. Hundreds of thousands of these people became “internally displaced persons” (IDPs), people forced to abandon their homes, and left homeless in their own land.
Today nearly 400,000 Haitians continue to live in tent camps in and around Port-au-Prince. Living under shredded plastic tarps and tattered tents, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and face high rates of rape in the camps. Many lack access to adequate food, clean water, and toilets. Now, in yet another rainy season, all displaced persons face flooding and a surge in cholera. One in five is also at risk of imminent forced eviction. These are people fighting to hold onto hope.
Even before the earthquake destroyed 175,000 homes, Haiti faced a housing crisis.
Centuries of economic disparity and extreme poverty led to sprawling shantytowns in Port-au-Prince and inequality in land ownership. Hillside shantytown residents were disproportionately affected by the earthquake. Without a plan that addresses the structural underpinnings of the housing crisis, the next natural disaster could be more devastating.
Organizing for Solutions
In May 2011, a grassroots housing forum brought together representatives from 40 grassroots and Haitian organizations and 35 IDP camp committees, plus allies from around the Americas. They discussed strategies to respond to Haiti’s housing crisis and drafted and signed a set of resolutions detailing solutions.
Together with Haitian human rights organizations and international allies, Haitian camp residents and grassroots organizations are advocating for:
- an end to forced evictions until public or affordable housing is made available;
- the designation of land for housing;
- a Ministry of Housing to coordinate and implement a public or affordable housing plan;
- allocation of funding to realize this plan.
- The 2010 earthquake destroyed 20% and damaged 27% of the houses in Port-au-Prince.
- The total damage to the housing sector was estimated at $2.3 billion.
- Only 13,198 houses have been repaired and 4,843 permanent homes built for more than one and a half a million people originally displaced.
- At present, 369,000 people are still living in displacement camps; and it is estimated that 311,000 will be living in camps by the end of this year.
- 80 percent of those displaced thus far have nowhere to return to because they were renters before the earthquake.
- There is not enough housing available to absorb the need. According to data from the International Organization for Migration, current shortages will leave more than 300,000 without housing.
- When evicted from camps, these families have no option but to inhabit substandard housing units. As soon as one year after the earthquake, despite the dangers, families had returned to 64% of houses marked for demolition and 85% of houses needing significant repair.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM), tasked with coordinating humanitarian aid within the camps, keeps statistics on the number of IDP camps and the number of people in them. IOM also began tracking forced evictions in July 2010.
For this information from IOM, see the Haiti Emergency Shelter & Camp Coordination Camp Management site.
Within weeks of the earthquake, private landowners and some local government officials began forced evictions, doubly displacing one of the most vulnerable populations in the poorest country in the hemisphere. In the two years since the earthquake, involuntary expulsion has increased. Forced evictions—legally defined as the involuntary removal of individuals or communities without appropriate forms of protection—grossly violate the human rights guaranteed by the Haitian Constitution and international law. Today, forced eviction threatens roughly one in five Haitians still displaced from the earthquake.
When President Michel Martelly took office, he pledged to close all of Haiti’s displacement camps within six months, starting with the closure of six camps during his first 100 days. Two and a half years later, an estimated 575 camps remain.
The President’s relocation project, called “16/6,” was proposed as a model to address immediate housing needs, close IDP camps and commence reconstruction. Displaced families were forced to leave camps prior to the rehabilitation of their neighborhoods, meaning that few alternatives for safe and affordable housing existed. In total, the 16/6 plan only assisted 5% of families who were displaced after the earthquake. Although this model is being replicated by aid groups, and is moving into a second phase that targets 45 more camps, it is a piecemeal program that is failing to meet its own goals while a comprehensive housing plan is still glaringly absent.
A newly formed governmental institution, Unitè de Construction de Logements et de Batiments Publics (UCLBP), has been given the directive to draft a National Housing policy. A $300,000 World Bank trust-fund grant supported the creation of this policy. However, UCLBP sought no input from displaced people and promotes market-based solutions to the housing crisis, with no mention of affordability or access. A recent Gender Action report reveals that the policy risks burdening the poor, especially women, with expensive and unobtainable housing by relying on private solutions.
For more information, download the Under Tents Housing Brief