|Population||UN Population Division (as of 2016)|
|New displacements (Disasters)||IDMC (as of 2016)|
|Refugees||UNHCR (as of 2016)|
Disasters, forced evictions, chronic food and livelihood insecurity, and economic and political fragility are the main drivers of internal displacement in Haiti. The country’s territory comprises the western third of the island of Hispaniola, neighbouring the Dominican Republic, and it is among the poorest countries in the world, highly exposed and vulnerable to recurrent weather-related, geophysical and biological hazards, and politically, economically and environmentally fragile. These conditions drive high levels of chronic and protracted displacement risk, create significant needs for assistance and protection among communities and neighbourhoods affected by displacement, and pose major obstacles to durable solutions.
Displacement risk in Haiti is driven by extreme vulnerability and inequality. More than 59 per cent of Haitians live below the national poverty line and over 24 per cent live in extreme poverty. Rapid population growth and urbanisation, slow economic growth and underdevelopment characterised by a large informal sector, environmental degradation, low levels of education, social and political instability, criminal networks, weak governance and high levels of corruption contribute to Haiti’s very low levels of human development.
The poor majority live mostly in low-quality rented housing and in crowded informal settlements built in the absence of regulated standards and in areas prone to floods, landslides and other natural hazards. Access to basic services is very limited, particularly in rural areas. The country remains highly dependent on international aid and on remittances from the Haitian diaspora. The persistence of cholera since 2010 has added to the complexity of the situation. Together with the decreasing humanitarian presence and funding, electoral tensions and instability since 2015 have affected operations providing assistance and protection for highly vulnerable people.
As a tropical, mountainous country in an active seismic region, Haiti is exposed to a range of weather-related and geophysical natural hazards. Earthquakes, while relatively rare, are a major risk. Prior to the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake in 2010, the last major earthquake to affect Haiti occurred in 1842. The 2010 earthquake disaster displaced some 1.5 to 2.3 million people; this displacement was caused not only by the earthquake itself, but also by “an excessively dense population, a lack of adequate building standards, the disastrous state of the environment, disorganised land use and an unbalanced division of economic activity. Forced evictions have caused the secondary or onward displacement of many people displaced by disaster. 60,570 people displaced by the earthquake were forcibly evicted from temporary settlements between July and December 2016 alone; 75 per cent of them were staying on private land.
The wet season from April to June is followed by tropical storms from June until the end of November, and coastal communities are highly vulnerable to those hazards. Low-lying areas and estuaries are prone to riverine floods. Coastal erosion threatens homes in some areas. Data for the period 2008 to 2016 shows that seasonal floods and storms have triggered around 4,000 and 52,000 displacements on average per year, respectively. Two years before the 2010 earthquake, fourhurricanes hit the country in rapid succession, causing a major disaster in which more than 138,000 people were displaced. The most devastating disaster to affect the country since 2010 was brought on by the category 4 Hurricane Matthew, which hit the poor and largely rural south-west of the country on 4 October 2016, displacing at least 176,000 people who were staying in evacuation shelters just over a month later, with many more sheltering elsewhere. Sea level rise linked to climate change threatens to exacerbate these hazards even further.
Eighty per cent of the country is mountainous with a risk of landslides. Together with intensive farming, deforestation of all but three per cent of the land for agriculture or fuel has increased disaster risk and destroyed livelihoods. Coastal communities are vulnerable to strong winds, storm surges and flooding, and repeated displacement, with a severe effect on cumulative vulnerability. Over two-thirds of Haitians depend on agriculture, and most decades of the 20th century saw a one- to three-year period of drought, falling agricultural productivity and drinking water supplies. 38 per cent of the population suffer from food insecurity.
Following the 2010 earthquake, reconstruction and development projects, including reconstruction financed by the World Bank, also caused displacement, and forced evictions unrelated to the earthquake disaster have also been reported. This includes a tourism development project in Cap Haïtien in 2014 and the development of public utilities in downtown Port-au-Prince.
Internal displacement has been augmented by the forced deportation of over 160,000 people of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic to Haiti between June 2015 and December 2016, with three percent of deported persons declaring that they had nowhere to go. As of November 2016, about 3,000 of those persons were residing in displacement camps.
While smaller-scale disaster-related displacement happens frequently in Haiti, the most significant events of recent years include the 2010 earthquake disaster and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Most of the people displaced by the 2010 earthquake disaster were residents of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. After the earthquake, around half the 2.3 million residents of Port-au-Prince were staying in tents and makeshift shelters. Patterns of movement out of Port-au-Prince soon after the onset of the disaster followed seasonal patterns of migration between rural and urban areas, as people took shelter with friends and family and sought access to functioning basic services, including schools. While most remained in Haiti, some left in the disaster’s aftermath, including thousands who crossed the land border into the Dominican Republic.
The need to be close to their former homes and livelihood options quickly drew many back to the devastated capital to access assistance and participate in cash-for-work and other recovery programmes, which sometimes involved the separation of household members between different locations. About six months after the earthquake, 1.5 million people were registered as sheltering in 1,555 displacement sites.
The number of people sheltering in the generally poor, deteriorating and dangerous conditions of the camps fell progressively over time, though movements into, out of and between sites were complex. People were drawn from rural areas to the urban sites, while people also moved between camps to access livelihood opportunities and when they were unable to pay rent. Distinguishing displaced people from the wider population of the urban poor became increasingly difficult, as sites or camps came to resemble pre-existing informal settlements or slums. Over 292,000 people who had rented their homes before the disaster were assisted in moving on from the camps through the provision of rental subsidies for one year and through other programmes to support relocation. Many other IDPs were forcibly evicted from sites by landowners or local authorities. Thousands were further displaced from their shelters by subsequent flooding, storms or landslides. Hundreds of thousands relocated to undeveloped land made available by the government through the law of eminent domain, highlighting the complex challenges related to land tenure and property rights in the country.
Despite the significant decrease in the total number of people living in displacement sites, a survey conducted in 2014 concluded that 74 per cent of people who had been displaced continued to see themselves as displaced, even though they no longer lived in camps. Furthermore, 61 per cent of families displaced reported worse overall living conditions since the disaster, compared with 40 per cent of people who had not been displaced. Seven years after the earthquake, nearly 47,000 displaced people were still staying in tents, makeshift shelters or transitional shelters at 31 sites.
Unlike those of the earthquake, Hurricane Matthew’s impacts were greatest in poor and hard-to-reach rural areas and coastal communities, with 90 per cent of homes rendered uninhabitable in the worst-hit areas. More than half (58 per cent) of displaced people surveyed who left after the hurricane hit departments in the south-west were moving towards the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area in the Ouest department, while 40 per cent of people indicated destinations on the southern peninsula. While most people who moved to neighbouring areas to seek safe shelter or to stay with relatives appear to have returned to their home areas within a short period of time, it is likely that their displacement continued close to their former homes.
Five months after hurricane Matthew, little assistance had reached people in poor and inaccessible mountainous areas or islands. Ninety-eight per cent of all houses had been severely damaged or destroyed in those areas, and 85 per cent of them had yet to be reconstructed. Prior to the earthquake in 2010, the country already faced a severe housing crisis. Bureaucracy and political instability have continued to delay improvements in the housing situation and impede the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Access to basic needs, sanitation and health care represent another area of great need. Only a third of people internally displaced by the earthquake have access to a toilet in their camps. Outbreaks of cholera in displacement camps after the earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 further highlighted the need to improve sanitation facilities.
Protection concerns about women and girls in shelters following Hurricane Matthew include a lack of lighting at night, a lack of private space, and the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Displaced children also face heightened risk of abuse and human trafficking as well as concerns related to loss of documentation. The acute vulnerability and needs of thousands of displaced and homeless people evicted from schools serving as temporary shelters following Hurricane Matthew have been of particular concern.
Meanwhile, drought has increased food insecurity in Haiti, and at least 200,000 people find themselves in an extreme food emergency situation. People displaced by disasters who have lost their livelihoods are likely to be among the most vulnerable.
Government of the Republic of Haiti, Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti, March 2010
IDMC, Haiti: A humanitarian crisis in need of a development solution, Country Overview, December 2012
Brooking Institution and IOM, Supporting Durable Solutions to Urban, Post-disaster Displacement: Challenges and Opportunities in Haiti, 2014
IOM, Hurricane Matthew Response, DTM - Haiti, February 2017, available at https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/assessments/dtm_matthew_report_round_4.pdf
ACAPS, Protection after hurricane Matthew, 26 October 2016
Amnesty International, ‘15 minutes to leave’: Denial of the right to adequate housing in post-quake Haiti, 2015, available at
Human Rights Watch, Haiti: Stateless People Trapped in Poverty. Victims of Dominican Republic’s arbitrary deportations, 29 November 2016