11 January 2013 | Julia Blocher

Haiti, 3 years on, remains a humanitarian crisis in dire need of a development solution

The findings of our latest report highlights the dire situation, three years after the 2010 earthquake, of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti.


Lest we forget, tomorrow marks the three year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Notwithstanding the death and destruction the earthquake left in its wake, the anniversary also remembers a disaster that many reporting today are claiming as one of the most flawed humanitarian interventions in recent memory.

Our latest report on internally displaced people (IDPs) in Haiti –  ‘A humanitarian crisis in need of a development solution’ –  highlights how a short-sighted focus on the shorter-term ‘emergency phase’ needs is today, three years on, creating a real barrier to the 357,000 IDPs who remain in the camps, and the thousands more outside of camps still struggling to rebuild their lives, particularly in terms of housing.

The straw that broke the camel’s back 

It may be interesting to note that displacement is no news in Haiti. Political instability and frequent disasters caused by seasonal, weather-related events have regularly forced people from their homes since Haiti was founded. As explained in IDMC’s report, in the second half of the 20th century and the early 2000′s, Haiti’s history is speckled with displacement episodes.

Displacement due to earthquakes, however, is much rarer – and the 2010 earthquake, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake with an epicentre 25 miles from a metropolitan area of over 2 million people, was a beast at that. Since then, the cumulative impacts of seasonal rains, hurricanes and storms on people unable to fully recover from shocks have forced IDPs in earthquake-affected and hosting areas to relive their displacement episode again. In 2012 alone, around 70,000 people were displaced by storm and flood disasters – including some 58,000 displaced by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October.

 201301 map am haiti en

Forced from the camps with nowhere else to go

The number of internally displaced people living in camps has fallen by over 77 per cent since its peak in July 2010 (IOM/DTM, October 2012). Yet while this sounds like great news, the reality is that many of these were forcibly evicted from the camps, they had no choice and few alternative options.

The forcible eviction of IDPs from camps, mostly on private land, is violent and unlawful. Over the last three years, more than 61,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) have been displaced again as a result of such forced evictions and other threats.  Other IDPs, threatened with eviction, return to unfit housing or find other short-term solutions.

 201301 am haiti idmc

Some IDPs have received small compensation to leave from private landowners, as highlighted by a recent article in the New York Times written by Deborah Sontag. Compensating internally displaced households a few months income to vacate public land or ‘’return cash grants’’, says Sontag, has also been adopted by the Haitian government and international authorities as a short-term solution where the reconstruction plan imagined in the early months of the humanitarian intervention is no longer seen as a realisable ambition.

A lack of information makes the number of IDPs living outside of camps and camp-like situations difficult to assess – though numerous accounts indicate that host families have difficulty coping with the pressure on already limited economic and food resources (ACTED needs assessment, April 2010). Also unclear is the number who reoccupied the same but unsafe homes, although our report suggests many IDPs occupy unrepaired homes unfit for habitation, where security is poor and people remain at risk of disease (CHAN, June 2011).

Camps as ‘unsafe, unsustainable and generally “squalid”’

To not be forgotten is the situation of some 357,000 IDPs who remain in camps or camp-like situations (IDMC, December 2012). 90 per cent of such camps are made up of unofficial groups of makeshift shelters and tents that IDPs have erected themselves; shelters made of flimsy material, without doors, walls, or locks, built in the streets or anywhere with a few square feet available.  The closure of camps slowed significantly in 2012, reflecting obstacles to return or relocation, particularly for IDPs who rented rather than owned their own homes before the earthquake (IOM, 13 December 2012).

Unsafe, unsustainable, and generally ‘’squalid’’ living conditions for the internally displaced is just one among a laundry list of serious and pressing issues in Haiti, along with heath, physical security and integrity, employment and access to livelihoods, education, and addressing the specific needs of vulnerable groups with particular risks, to name a few.

For more detail on these issues and to learn more about the housing and shelter concerns in Haiti, read our report, ‘A humanitarian crisis in need of a development solution, ’ and visit our country page on Haiti.

The report concludes that development solutions, alongside increased efforts to create livelihood opportunities and improve access to basic services, are needed to take a small step towards the long-term solutions desperately needed for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still in dire need of a safe and secure place to call home.

See the BBC for this video on Jonathan Katz’s book.

Yesterday the BBC promoted a book called, “The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster,” written by Jonatahn Katz, who was an Associated Press correspondent in Haiti from 2007-2011. The book outlines the failures of the flawed humanitarian intervention in Haiti, and sadly, comes to the same conclusion as most, our report included: 3 years later, Haiti appears no better off. In 2013, it seems that the question for humanitarians in Haiti is no longer how can we ‘build back better,’ the phrase popularised by Bill Clinton as the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, but rather, how can we keep a floundering population above water?

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