Haiti: aid falls short, and the homeless face evictions

As of May 12 a group of Haitians left homeless by a massive January 2010 earthquake were facing possible expulsion from their displaced persons’ camp at the Palais de l’Art, in Delmas 33 in the northeast of Port-au-Prince. A lawyer for the property’s owner said he was asking the Interior Ministry to remove the camp residents within eight days. The residents reported that the owner had already started harassing them: on May 9 they found the doors to the toilets locked, and on May 10 the front gate was locked, trapping them in the camp. More than 150 families have been living at the site, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

The intergovernmental International Organization for Migration (IOM, OIM in French and Creole) reported in April that some 234,000 people have been removed since June 2010 from 247 of the more than 1,000 improvised camps that formed after the earthquake. Of the 680,000 homeless people still living in the camps—in unsanitary conditions, without basic services and with the constant danger of violent crime, especially against women and children—about 166,000 were also threatened with the possibility of eviction into even worse conditions, according to the IOM. With the season for tropical storms set to begin in June, the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), a Haitian human rights organization, is calling on the government to intervene to protect the displaced. (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 12; Adital, Brazil, May 12, from JRS)

The size and condition of the homeless population in Haiti 16 months after the earthquake has inspired calls for government action in the US as well. On May 10 the House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 1016, requiring the president to report on the effectiveness of US assistance to Haiti. This followed the April 19 release of an audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which administers US foreign aid programs. The audit covered 16 grants, totaling $139 million, awarded from January 2010 through June 2010 to provide temporary housing to the earthquake victims; the main grantees were CHF International, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and GOAL Ireland.

The OIG found that the grantees had only completed 22% of the planned shelters by November 2010 and that there was a 65% shortfall in the efforts to repair “14,375 homes minimally damaged in the earthquake.” The shelters themselves were inadequate, the auditors reported, and unlikely to last the three years required by the USAID. The way the grants were made excluded Haitian businesses, and even though USAID was informed of the importance of clearing space for reconstruction, the agency didn’t arrange for using heavy equipment to remove rubble until November.

The DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) notes that while little is being done for Haiti’s displaced population, one US charitable organization is addressing what it calls a “critical shortage of hotel space that meets even the most basic standards for business travelers.” The Clinton Bush Fund, which was established after the earthquake by former presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and George W. Bush (2001-2009), is spending $2 million to finish building the Oasis Hotel, a luxury facility whose construction was delayed because of the earthquake. “The Oasis Hotel symbolizes Haiti ‘building back better,’ and sends a message to the world that Haiti is open for business,” according to Paul Altidor, the fund’s vice president of programs and investments in a May 9 press release. (CEPR, Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, May 6, May 11; Clinton Bush Fund press release, May 9)

International aid and recovery efforts were the subject of a conference that Haitian organizations and international solidarity groups held in Port-au-Prince on April 28 and 29. Participants in the gathering—entitled “What Financing for What Reconstruction?“—criticized international aid efforts that they said increase the country’s political and financial dependency and are “led by foreign businesses,” according to Beverly Keene, an Argentine-based activist who works with Jubilee South. The participants contrasted this with aid provided by Cuba and other countries in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which they said had respected the needs and culture of the Haitian people.

The conference proposed the establishment of a Permanent Assembly of Social Movements to insure a leading role for the Haitian people in the reconstruction. The participants also called for the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a 13,000-member international military and police operation, and the elimination of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), which international donors set up in March 2010 to monitor aid distribution. The IHRC is co-chaired by former US president Clinton, who is also the United Nations special envoy for Haiti. (Adital, May 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 15.

See our last post on Haiti.