Haiti’s Increasingly Hidden Displacement Disaster
January 7, 2013 Centre for Economic and Policy research. Original article here
Port-au-Prince – In the last thirteen months, the “official” total of displaced persons in Haiti has decreased by 35 percent and over 300 camps have been closed. One could be forgiven for thinking the decrease was even larger. The sprawling tent camp near the airport, for everyone entering Haiti to see, as well as the Champ de Mars camp, are no longer. With their closure, some of the most visible signs of the stalled reconstruction effort have been erased. As the three-year commemoration of the earthquake approaches, the reduction in the IDP population will undoubtedly be touted as one of the great successes of the relief and reconstruction effort. And yet an estimated 360,000 Haitians remain in official tent camps. Those who remain may not be as visible; many are tucked behind high walls and off main streets but their situation remains just as dire and continues to deteriorate. The most recent OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin notes that those who remain in the camps “face worsening living conditions, as humanitarian partners pull out as a result of lack of funding.” It is estimated that at least 230,000 will still be in the camps at this time next year.
For those that have left the camps, little is known about their current status. According to OCHA, over 250,000 have left the camps due to resettlement programs, yet there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to them. The government’s flagship relocation program, “16/6”, began over a year ago, meaning the one-year rental subsidies offered to camp residents have already run out, or will in the next few months. One former resident of the Champ de Mars camp said that his subsidy will run out next month, and with no steady employment, he expects to be back on the street soon. If so, he, and others in similar situations, would likely fall outside of the “official” camp population.
Some studies by actors involved in rental subsidy programs have shown high rates of success concerning families finding housing even after the one-year is up. The International Federation of the Red Cross, for example found that, of 354 families whose rental subsidy had run out, 63 percent had stayed in their apartment, while only 10 percent could not be found. Nevertheless, there is a need for further research on what will happen to families once their yearly rental ends. A greater focus from all involved in relocation on the long-term impacts of their programs is urgently needed.
There is also evidence that the rental subsidy option could be nearing its end. In April, studies by aid agencies estimated the amount of available rental options to be roughly 19,000 in the metropolitan Port-au-Prince area. The studies led the Shelter Cluster to recommend an increase in the rental return programs. But since that study, over 10,000 additional families have received the subsidy, meaning that the possibility of further camp population reduction through the program could be limited.
While the rental subsidy and other return programs have had limited success in reducing the number of camp residents, the long-term impacts could be extremely dangerous. Further, it remains clear that the vast majority of those that have left the “official” camps did so not because of return programs, but because of deplorable living conditions or (sometimes very violent) forced evictions. As can be seen in the table below, only 25 percent of the reduction in the camp population can be attributed to relocation efforts. For the remaining 880,000, little is known, though it is clear on the ground that there has been a proliferation of informal camps, outside the purview of the “official” totals. Of those who remain in the camps, some 80,000 are under constant threat of eviction.
One effort to follow up with former camp residents was undertaken by Mark Schuller of Northern Illinois University and in coordination with the Faculté d’Ethnologie at l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti. Only one in seven of those surveyed had left the camps due to receiving money, usually from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or an NGO. This is even fewer than those who responded that they had left the camps due to a forced eviction (one in six). Overall, Schuller found that “the data do not point to a clear answer that after one of the largest and best funded humanitarian efforts in recent history, people are better off now than before the earthquake.”
One of the largest impediments to better livelihoods identified by Schuller was that the neighborhood revitalization programs that were supposed to accompany the relocations have yet to show results. It is possible that the influx of new residents into neighborhoods, which were already strained by the earthquake, is making them even more vulnerable to the next disaster. The $65 million dollar World Bank “Port au Prince Neighborhood Housing Reconstruction” project, partially funded by the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, has only disbursed $5 million as of November, and won’t be completed until 2015 at the earliest.