Today marks the six month anniversary of the massive Haiti earthquake.  Where do we stand?  Last month, the UN OCHA released these facts and figures about the status of Haiti’s recovery. 

Numbers clearly don’t tell you the whole picture.  As you can see, there is still quite a long way to go to provide people living in so-called “spontaneous settlements” access to decent shelter and services. These are the tent cities that sprang up in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.  Any patches of open space–highway medians, parks, a golf course —  became home to many thousands of people seeking some form of rudimentary shelter.  Some of these camps are well administered with accesses to schools and medical services. Some are harder to reach, and built in marginal lands and flood plains. 

And even in camps that are “registered” there are huge logistical and engineering challenges facing residents and camp administrators.  Check out this video I dug up on YouTube from a spontaneous settlement administered by the American Refugee Committee International. 

Finally, Bill Clinton is on his way to Haiti today. He is co-chairing a reconsruction commission with the Haitian prime minister that will channel donor funds to long-term reconstruction projects.  The Miami Herald, which has a truly excellent special feature well on Haiti, interviews Clinton about Haiti’s reconstruction challenges.  The whole interview is worth a read, but it is useful to note that Clinton consistently cites 1) rubble removal and 2) the precarious shelter situation as Haiti’s most daunting challenge. 

And the biggest problem in Haiti with this disaster?

It’s the biggest problem in every disaster area I’ve ever worked in, including the United States. It’s the housing issue. It’s complicated in Haiti by the fact that most of the people who lost their primary residences were renters. And so just like in relocating these big settlements, the government has to either condemn land or make deals with land owners. We’re talking about what kinds of arrangements might be made with the people who own property in the larger Port-au-Prince area and who are renting out to people. We’ve got a lot of those buildings that have been certified as safe to move in or could be safe to move in just by clearing rubble or fixing them up. That is, they are not structurally unsound. But it’s quite complex and it’s the one area that President [René] Préval has wanted to keep the Haitian government directly in charge of because of all of the legal issues involved. It looks to me like what we are going to have to do is almost work this out building by building, block by block, although we had discussed whether we can make a deal with the biggest of the landlords. The rubble and the housing are big problems.

The pace of the debris removal is not nearly rapid enough. We need more heavy equipment as well as more people in the Cash-for-Work, working in it. We need a plan for breaking it down, either giving the things that can be recycled to people for recycling or setting up direct recycling. I’ve asked the U.N. to work on a plan that will allow us, instead of moving everything to a central location, to clear a five block area and store all of the rubble in one or two places so every place else can start to rebuild. We’ve got to accelerate that.

And the biggest problem in Haiti with this disaster?

It’s the biggest problem in every disaster area I’ve ever worked in, including the United States. It’s the housing issue. It’s complicated in Haiti by the fact that most of the people who lost their primary residences were renters. And so just like in relocating these big settlements, the government has to either condemn land or make deals with land owners. We’re talking about what kinds of arrangements might be made with the people who own property in the larger Port-au-Prince area and who are renting out to people. We’ve got a lot of those buildings that have been certified as safe to move in or could be safe to move in just by clearing rubble or fixing them up. That is, they are not structurally unsound. But it’s quite complex and it’s the one area that President [René] Préval has wanted to keep the Haitian government directly in charge of because of all of the legal issues involved. It looks to me like what we are going to have to do is almost work this out building by building, block by block, although we had discussed whether we can make a deal with the biggest of the landlords. The rubble and the housing are big problems.

As I’ve long said, one thing that Haiti does have going for it is UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton, who told Esquire that he is “committing the next three years to Haiti.”

 

Discussion

comments...

 

Get occasional updates from UN Dispatch


Subscriptions


Get the Global Dispatches Podcast!