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'Impossible' to house Haiti's displaced under current political conditions, says international report

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Two recently published reports on housing and shelter in Haiti paint a disturbing picture. 

A 13-page, report by UN Habitat, published (in French) in January 2012, says housing policy for Haitians is in a state of "laissez-faire" (free for all). There is no official policy or strategic guidelines in place on the part of the Haitian government and its international allies. "There is no coordinated program that would ensure consistency or harmony of operations in the repair and reconstruction of houses following the 2010 earthquake."

According to the report, there have been 25,470 houses repaired and 15,225 new houses built in the earthquake zone in 2010 and 2011. Unknown additional repairs and new construction have been conducted by homeowners without professional advice or assistance. More than 175,000 dwellings in Port au Prince were severely damaged or damaged beyond repair on January 12, 2010.

A plan for Port au Prince?

A comprehensive and far-reaching report on housing, also in French, was published by Solidarités International in January 2012. It looks at the history of housing in Port au Prince and the actions taken since the earthquake. It is 76 pages long.

Eighty per cent of the city's population lives in informal conditions. (p 62) The report notes several grave consequences of the absence of urban planning and coordination since the earthquake. One is the spread of shantytowns in the capital region. The other is the "impossibility" of relocating the people living in survivor camps.

Based on the current political conditions in Haiti, including the failure to replace the rental housing stock lost to the earthquake, "it is certain that a portion of the camps will not disappear."

The report is sharply critical of the funds that have been spent on temporary shelter. The money and effort used in such temporary measures (up to $6,000 US for shelters often imported from abroad) would be more useful if used to build permanent housing.(p 28)

The report says the classification of dwellings according to damage has not been used to its full potential, including the fact that many homeowners are unaware of the significance of the yellow (seriously damaged) and red (must be demolished) color codes with which their homes are identified. The coding of buildings according to damage was one of the important, post-earthquake tasks provided by international funding and expertise.

The section of the report on neighbourhood planning and house construction for Port au Prince, beginning page 44, looks at a number of examples, good and bad, to date. Some of the claimed successes, for example the training and mentoring programs of Build Change are established fact; other claims might be contested. The report says that small-scale projects by Haitian and international NGOs can be successful in local communities but do little for the repair and re-development of the center of the city, large districts and the overall infrastructure of the city.

Looking at the overall planning picture for Port au Prince, the report laments the fact that international organizations are proceeding on projects "with little coordination or exchange of views and experiences."(p 49)

Beginning page 59, the report looks at the performance to date, or not, of the Haitian government. The weakness of the Haitian state, it says, "is sadly illustrated by its absence from the urban landscape." It notes, in passing, there are competing projects for the re-development of the downtown, though does not mention that all of them remain a pipe dream (see Haiti Grassroots Watch story from nearly one year ago on the non-reconstruction of downtown Port au Prince). "Different projects for the center of the city, run into, as always, the lack of means and political will on the part of the Haitian state."

The report looks in detail at the much-publicized '16-6' resettlement project of the Haitian and international governments. Announced in the summer of 2011, this project aims to resettle people from six camps into 16 targeted neighbourhoods). (p 63-65) Noting that the program is entirely directed by international NGOs, it politely declines to offer an assessment, noting that the program has been "highly publicized in media" and has absorbed a large part of the funding available for building new housing. As of the report's publication, '16-6' had reached 4 camps and 8 targeted communities.

A recent delegation of the Canada Haiti Action Network visited the residents of one of the targets of ‘16-6', the large camp in Port au Prince's historic square, Champ de Mars. That relocation is being financed by the Canadian government. The delegation's report says the relocation of Champ de Mars is a clearance program, not one to build housing.

Of note throughout the Solidarités International report is its focus on the role of NGOs assisting individual homeowners in building housing. There is an unstated assumption that this is how entire neighbourhoods will be rebuilt or built anew. Nowhere is indicated the need for a Haitian ministry of housing with a robust plan of public housing works. Only a small minority of the residents of Port au Prince own their homes.

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