The condition of people in camps and the Housing situation in Haiti after the earthquake
A note for the Education, Youth and Sports Committee of the Haitian Senate
Port au Prince, 15th September 2011
Following a meeting with the President of the Senate Social Affairs Committee on 6th September 2011, the Collective of Organisations Defending Housing Rights has the honour of asking you to intervene over the population’s housing situation in Haiti, in particular that of those living under canvas since the 12th January 2010 earthquake.
Since before the disaster, the housing question was already problematic in the country, particularly in a city like Port au Prince, home to a third of the country’s population, that is to say more than three million people. Today, however, things have got even worse, when you consider the number of houses that have been destroyed or damaged. There aren’t enough houses in the capital for people to live in. Before the disaster, most people rented. Since they lost their livelihoods in the earthquake, they are no longer able to pay their rent. Many who owned their homes and saw them damaged or destroyed cannot afford either to repair or rebuild them. Those, Honourable Senators, are the reasons for which so many people, despite the terrible conditions they have to endure, remain in the camps, in the middle of the streets, on public squares and on private land, more than a year and a half after the earthquake.
Instead of helping people out of the situation they find themselves in, since the beginning of 2011, the state has been using threats to force them to up sticks, without any idea where they might go. In many areas of Delmas, Pétionville and Port au Prince, municipal agents have been descending on folks, destroying their tents, ransacking their few belongings and using threats of violence to expel them from where they live. Simultaneously, self-proclaimed land owners are going all out to clear other areas. There are now groups of armed civilians, working for who knows, joining in. For example, on 19th August, a group of young men in a red Tracker 4X4, registration number AA20172, descended on the camp at Automeca to force people out. They identified themselves as members of an organisation called PR12 “12th January Resistance Platform” and claimed to be close to President Martelly. When the camp population grew angry and punctured the vehicle’s tyres, the driver drove off, while the other three men were held and the police called to collect them. This sort of method, which is in increasingly being used by a number of parties, could lead to serious incidents.
Furthermore, there are several camps that house more people than some municipalities, but the police have taken no steps to establish a permanent presence in them and guarantee the population’s security. Now, as soon as fleeing criminals enter the camps to escape pursuit, everybody wants to label the unfortunate camp dwellers as criminals or bandits
Things cannot go on like this. Those at the helm of the state and in Parliament have to take the question of housing seriously. To have somewhere to live and sleep is a universal human right. Home is an important space for people to reproduce, children to grow up, citizens to live side by side. To have somewhere to live in dignity is a fundamental right a state should guarantee for its citizens. Unfortunately, our state has never had housing issues as a priority. It has not built affordable housing to provide accommodation for those less able to pay. It has not planned or developed areas to enhance housing, has not set out any rules as to where housing may be built and what land should be kept for agriculture. No programme of credit has been established to help those who are in work to build or buy their houses bit by bit All of this is the cause of the construction chaos we saw before (and since) the 12th January earthquake. It is this anarchy that is to blame for the number of deaths in the tragedy.
The earthquake was a chance for the Haitian State to tackle the issue of housing as it rebuilt. Unfortunately, so far neither the Executive nor the Parliament has done anything to address this.
This is why, today, as civil society organisations which concern themselves with issues of housing and housing rights, we have come before the Senate Commission for Education, Youth and Sports to talk about the housing problem and to ask you for the following:
Parliament to make housing rights and the situation of those living in the camps a priority We would like to see Senators and deputies visit the camps more frequently, talk to people there, take up their grievances and defend them, especially when they are being expelled with nowhere to go. We would like to see the debate on the housing question take on more prominence in Parliament as a main priority for the country.
- We ask the Senate Commission for Social Affairs to create a permanent sub-commission to work on housing issues. This sub-commission would develop a relationship with organisations working on housing issues along with camp dwellers in order to get regular information on the situation on the ground and discuss proposals to resolve the housing problem and make the voice of the suffering population reach the ears of the Executive.
- We want to see the Prime Minister designate, who is to present his ‘general policies’ to Parliament in the next few days, make housing issues, particularly for those of limited means, a priority. We request the Commission to ask the candidate clear questions about his concrete plans to get people out of tents. We want the issue of housing to be one of the determining factors in whether the new Prime Minister’s ‘general policies’ are approved.
- We ask Parliament to demand that the EPPL (Public Company for Social Housing) be reinstated as the institution within the Ministry that is tasked with housing matters. If not, another autonomous body should be set up, which has both the power and the means to put the necessary housing policies into practice.
- We ask the Parliament to pass a law that would create a public fund for housing and which would, each year, put aside a part of the state budget for housing matters. It should also decide where the money for this fund should come from.
- We ask Parliament to condemn the way in which people are being evicted from the camps. We ask you to remind the State and local authorities of their obligation to respect all human rights principles when they have to move people and to always find a dignified and acceptable alternative for them. We want there to be sanctions against those who organise forced evictions of victims of the earthquake.
- We ask Parliament to carry out an investigation into the large sums of money that were available and have been spent for housing in the country. The answers from the NGO’s, the UN bodies and ICRH are unsatisfactory. Furthermore, it has all taken place outside of the State’s leadership and with no defined plan. The government must be made to set up a national housing plan under which all other projects should come.
- In order for the State to do a better job on this issue, it needs credible information on those living in the camps. Some international organisations already have much of this information. We ask the Senators to urge the Haitian Institute for Statistics and Information Technology (IHSI) to fulfil its mission by investigating the number of people living in the camps, where they’re from, what conditions they’re in, in order to give the State the tools to act on the housing problem.
The gravity of housing problem and the way in which it is interwoven with so many major issues, such as territorial development, the environment, land questions, security, decentralisation means that no sector or institution should remain indifferent to it. As well as being a problem, the issue of housing offers up a possibility to create many jobs for the youth of the country. This is why we’re asking the Senate Commission on Education, Youth and Sports to make this a priority, firstly for itself, then to convince the rest of Parliament. In this way, little by little, the country can find a way to get people out of the tents and begin to resolve the housing crisis and many of the problems that are linked to it.
To conclude, we are taking this opportunity to invite you to a series of events being set up by several organisations on the occasion of World Housing Day on 3rd October. Amongst the events, there will be a day of discussions to be held at Fanny Villa in Babiole, across from the UN from 9am on Saturday 1st October, cultural activities to be held in one of the camps on Sunday 2nd October and a sit-in in front of the Ministry for Social affairs on Monday 3rd October.
We are counting on all members of the Commission for Education, Youth and Sports, as well as Parliament in general to make the issue of housing a live one. We thank you in advance.
For the Collective of Organisations Defending Housing Rights,
President, Management Committee, GARR
General Co-ordinator, FRAKKA