Latin America
9:53 am
Sun January 12, 2014

Four Years After Earthquake, Many In Haiti Remain Displaced

Originally published on Sun January 12, 2014 10:41 am

Four years ago Sunday, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, destroying its capital of Port-au-Prince and killing more than 200,000 people.

Today, much of Port-au-Prince looks like it did before the quake. Most of the tent camps in the city itself are gone, and streets are loaded with overcrowded buses and women selling vegetables.

Most of those whose lives were upended by the quake are back in some kind of home. Most of the rubble has been cleared from the streets. The severely damaged presidential palace has finally been razed. And the government is rebuilding its ministries downtown.

But for nearly 150,000 people, life hasn't moved on. They still live in the temporary plastic and plywood structures erected after the disaster.

What Keeps Them There

"It's the worst place to be in Haiti," says Gregoire Goodstein, mission chief for the International Organization for Migration. "We're talking about the higher-hanging fruit; people who are unable to get out of the tent camp system because they really don't have any other solutions for themselves."

Goodstein says it's possible the final resettling efforts could wrap up next year, but that depends on major factors, like hurricane season. Haiti is also planning parliamentary elections, and there's fear electoral violence could overtake the city, slowing down all government functions.

The government says there's one major obstacle to resettling the final 150,000 people: money.

"It will take $800 per person to get them out of the camps," says Harry Adam, who heads the Haitian government agency that's spearheading the reconstruction. "It's quite a big amount of money."

Some of that $800 goes to residents as rent subsidies — cash to help them get into a safe home.

No Water, No Electricity

Meanwhile, 271 official tent camps dot the region. The Haitian government recognizes these sites, and each tenant has been registered by NGOs. They're perched on dangerously steep mountainsides and pack busy street corners. There's a cluster of tents in view of a Porsche dealership.

Rosemary Durvessaint lives with her two children in a three-room hodgepodge of corrugated tin, cardboard and tarps that reads, "USAID. From the American People."

Since May she's lived in Titanyen, a cluster of tents and ramshackle houses growing up north of Port-au-Prince. Titanyen is one of the unsanctioned camps on land the government declared free to the public, and thousands have taken advantage — creating new homes along the dusty, dry mountainsides.

As the wind rips through and the structure struggles to hang on, it's hard to see this as safer than before the quake, but Durvessaint says the government has done nothing for the people out here.

"We don't have water, we don't have light," she says. "We don't have electricity."

A New City With Old Problems

Peter de Clercq is the new humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations. He says international donors have moved on to other crises, and Haiti needs to transition away from relying on outsiders.

It needs to demonstrate "clearly and visibly to the international community that it's capable of taking care of these basic services," he says.

Water and sanitation aren't even guaranteed in Port-au-Prince, let alone Titanyen, yet residents say they're likely to stay permanently.

That's OK for Adam, Haiti's reconstruction chief. He says Titanyen and the new villages will one day be the northern reaches of Port-au-Prince. He's pledging $6 million in aid for water and sanitation projects in the area.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Four years ago today, a powerful earthquake hit Haiti, leveling its capital Port-au-Prince along with much of the surrounding area. Foreign aid poured in to meet basic needs, like housing.

And yet today, nearly 150,000 people still live in temporary camps in Port-au-Prince, with nothing more than a tent to shelter their families. And many of those displaced Haitians now worry that this temporary solution will become permanent.

Reporter Peter Granitz brings us the story.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: If you walk around the capital, you look at a Haiti that looks like it almost once did. Most of the tent camps are gone. The streets are loaded with overcrowded tap-taps and women selling vegetables on the corner.

(SOUNDBITE OF A VEHICLE)

GRANITZ: Most of those whose lives were upended by the quake are back in some kind of home. Most of the rubble has been cleared from the streets. The severely damaged presidential palace is being razed, and the government is rebuilding its ministries downtown. But for nearly 150,000 people, life has not moved on. They still live in the temporary plastic and plywood structures built after the disaster.

GREGOIRE GOODSTEIN: It's the worst place to be in Haiti.

GRANITZ: Gregoire Goodstein is the mission chief for the International Organization for Migration. He says these are difficult cases.

GOODSTEIN: We're talking about the higher hanging fruit, people who are not able to get out of the camp system because they really don't have any other solutions for themselves.

GRANITZ: Goodstein says it's possible the final resettlements could wrap up next year. But that depends on major factors, like hurricane season. And Haiti hopes to hold parliamentary elections; there's fear electoral violence could overtake the city slowing down all government functions. The government says there's one major obstacle to resettling the final 150,000 people - money.

Harry Adam heads the Haitian government agency that's spearheading the reconstruction.

HARRY ADAM: We will need at least $800 per person to put them out of the camps. So it's quite a big amount of money.

GRANITZ: Some of that $800 goes to residents as rent subsidies, cash to help them get into a safe home.

Two hundred-seventy-one official tent camps dot the region. The Haitian government recognizes these sites, and each tenant has been registered by NGOs. They're perched on dangerously steep mountainsides and pack busy street corners. There's a cluster of tents in view of a Porsche dealership.

Rosemary Durvessaint lives north of Port-au-Prince in a hodgepodge of corrugated tin, cardboard and tarps that read: USAID From the American People. Since May, she's lived in Titanyen, a growing cluster of villages about 20 kilometers from Port-au-Prince. Titanyen is an unsanctioned camp. It's on land the government declared free to the public and thousands have taken advantage, creating new homes along its dusty, dry mountainsides. Ramshackle houses and tents climb up a treeless mountain.

Durvessaint walks us into her hovel she shares with two children.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRONG WINDS)

GRANITZ: As the wind rips through and the structure struggles to hang on, it's hard to see this as safer then before the quake. Durvessaint says the government has done nothing for the people out here.

ROSEMARY DURVESSAINT: (Through Translator) We don't have water. We don't have light. We don't have electricity.

GRANITZ: What attention Titanyen does get from the government comes mostly from work at the mass grave here. In the days following the powerful earthquake, tens of thousands of people killed in the disaster were trucked to this site and buried here.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

GRANITZ: In preparation for ceremonies marking the disaster anniversary, masons patch a cement wall surrounding the burial site.

Peter de Clercq is the new humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations. De Clercq says international donors have moved on to other crises and Haiti needs to transition away from relying on outsiders.

PETER DE CLERCQ: And starts demonstrating more clearly and visibly to the international community that it's capable of taking care of these basic services.

GRANITZ: Basic services like water and sanitation, services not guaranteed in Port-au-Prince, let alone Titanyen, yet residents there say they're likely to stay permanently.

And that's OK to Harry Adam. He says Titanyen and the new villages will one day be the northern stretches of Port-au-Prince. And he's pledging $6 million in aid for water and sanitation projects there.

For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Port-au-Prince.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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