27 June 2011:
A year and a half after the 2010 earthquake, hundreds of thousands continue to subsist in Haiti's displaced persons camps, where they remain vulnerable both to rising crime rates and to the 2011 storm season. Mark Schneider, Crisis Group's Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America, looks at why the greatest challenge facing Haiti's new president, Michel Martelly, may be resettling the country's displaced.
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Welcome to this podcast from the International Crisis Group. I'm Kimberly Abbott, Communications Director for North America. A year and a half ago, Haiti was hit with the Western Hemisphere's deadliest earthquake. Over 250,000 people died, and an estimated 1.5 million were forced from their homes. Today, 650,000 victims are still waiting for permanent housing in the unstable emergency camps around Port-au-Prince. In the camps, forced evictions and the resurgence of criminal gangs have put pressure on the new Haitian president, Michel Martelly, as he faces the challenge of setting up a comprehensive and sustainable resettlement strategy. I spoke earlier with Mark Schneider, Crisis Group's Senior Vice President and Special Advisor on Latin America, about the challenges of resettlement in post-earthquake Haiti. Crisis Group has a new briefing on the subject.
As the hurricane season begins, what are the most pressing issues for Haiti's new president?
I think that the most pressing issue is to find ways to move 650,000 earthquake victims who remain in tents all across the country, but mainly in Port-au-Prince, from those most vulnerable camps into more secure housing. You've already had 28 people die as a result of the first storms and 30 camps had to be evacuated, and those people were moved into emergency camps. There needs to be a national resettlement policy adopted by the government and funded by the international community.
That's been the most pressing issue now for a year and a half since the earthquake. Why has it taken so long? With all of the international aid that's pouring into the country, why aren't people being resettled?
I think that both the government of Haiti under former President Preval and the international community bear responsibility for the failure to come together to adopt a single, combined, fully endorsed national resettlement strategy. The reality is that internal debates within the United Nations community and internal debates among the various donors failed to produce a single, uniform international proposal to the government of Haiti. At the same time, it's clear that the government of Haiti was unwilling to make some of the key decisions about where new land was going to be provided, about whether they felt the initial answer needed to be to provide the victims of the earthquake with repaired homes, with the opportunity to rebuild some of the homes that had been damaged, or whether they were going to try and essentially rebuild the communities, including the houses of those who had suffered from the earthquake.
Has President Martelly inherited those same political sticking points? We saw just last week that his choice for prime minister was rejected. What are the political risks that he's facing in moving forward with this reconstruction now?
Unfortunately, the political risks are the failure of political leadership in Haiti across the board to recognize that this is a moment of truth for the country, and that therefore the partisan political divisions needed to be put into the background and the national interest of Haiti in reconstruction needed to be the primary priority. Unfortunately, he faces the same kinds of divisions, as we've seen in the rejection of his prime minister designee. He has to decide that this is the most urgent priority for his administration, and put everything else to one side until he gets agreement on a plan to move forward on resettling the internally displaced from those camps to decent housing. It's not going to happen overnight. But what needs to happen is for both sides—that is the government and the international community—to agree on a strategy, to announce that strategy, to ensure that people understand that it's going to be implemented, and at some point the individual families will receive the benefits of those programs.
So that's the first step. What, then, does the UN need to do and what do donors need to do?
I think that the donors and the United Nations need to agree that President Martelly's task force proposal to take the first six camps and to move the displaced from those camps to temporary, and ultimately permanent, housing represents a significant decision, and they should support it.
There have been a lot of reports about violence in the camps increasing in recent months. How will President Martelly tackle this problem, and how does that play into the wider plan for reconstruction and permanent housing?
That really is one of the fundamental reasons why this is so urgent. There has been an increase in violence in the camps, and some of the gangs who escaped from prison have put down new roots into those camps and are intimidating people and to some degree, as we've heard, increasing violence against women in those camps. President Martelly has recognized that, and that's one of the reasons that he's made a priority of resettling the people from the camps. The United Nations police and the Haitian National Police need to increase their presence in the camps while those camps are still being maintained, and at the same time increase their presence in the communities where the people will be resettled so that there's a greater degree of security when they return to those neighborhoods.
Edited for print