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World Haiti: One Year On From Quake


Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
Haiti: One Year on from Quake

As around a million and a half people camp out in squalor, rape is a daily occurrence, food is stolen, and most of the rubble from 330,000 wrecked homes is still piled high.
By Nina Lakhani, Sunday, 9 January 2011

On Tuesday 12 January 2010, Haiti was jolted and broken by an earthquake which killed 230,000 people. Today, despite pledges of billions and the presence of thousands of aid groups and missions, its people's plight is a festering global scandal.

Twelve months after the quake wrecked 350,000 homes and left at least 1.5 million people homeless, 87 per cent of the survivors are still living in squalid, dangerous tented camps. Dozens of rapes are committed every day, and so much rubble is uncleared that what remains on the ground, clogging any serious reconstruction, would fill trucks which would stretch halfway round the world. All this in a country which, staggeringly, hosts tourists from cruise ships. It can supply piña coladas, but not hope to its own people.

A new report published by ActionAid, to be released tomorrow, says: "In the capital Port-au-Prince, between 1.3 and 1.7 million people continue to live in increasingly squalid tents with little hope of moving to transitional shelters. Less than 30,000 of those displaced have found permanent homes. There is no strategic plan for shelter, land disputes are widespread, and tons of rubble needs clearing, much of which is thought to contain human remains." It added that "until the government frees up the land needed, we are forced to spend donations on replacing tents and other piecemeal measures designed to help people get by in overcrowded camps".

The two great obstacles to getting people into permanent shelter, never mind full reconstruction, are the vast quantities of rubble and land disputes. The quake created 20 million cubic metres of rubble, and less than 5 per cent of this has been cleared. International agencies, which have the money and equipment to start building more permanent housing, also face huge problems trying to obtain permission from landowners because more than 70 per cent of campsites are on disputed land.

The country's dysfunctional land registry has completely fallen apart since the earthquake, and forged documents, lost deeds, and multiple claimants are commonplace. Even the state does not know how much land it owns, which helps to explain why only 30,000 of the 2.5 million displaced people have found permanent shelter. To put this into context, Indonesia took five years to replace 139,000 houses destroyed in Aceh by the 2004 tsunami. In the developed world, six years after the 1995 earthquake that hit the Japanese city of Kobe, people were still living in temporary accommodation because property claims had not been settled.

The government has used emergency powers to appropriate private land for government buildings, shops and offices, but so far not for housing. Haiti was a corruptly dysfunctional state before the quake, and 28 out of 29 ministries and their records were destroyed in the disaster. But aid agencies cite a frustrating lack of government urgency. In an attempt to navigate Haiti's corruption record, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, led by Bill Clinton and the Haitian President, was established to approve and supervise all major projects in line with goals identified in the government's recovery plan. But the plan is narrow, out of date and contains no information about budgets and expected completion dates, according to ActionAid.

The system of delivering money has been painfully slow, lacks transparency and is inaccessible for ordinary Haitians. Housing, land issues and preventing violence against women are not priorities in the recovery plan. In addition, UN figures show that only half of the $2.1bn pledged for Haiti's reconstruction has been disbursed; money from France, the US and Saudi Arabia is only just beginning to trickle in.

Jane Moyo, the lead author of the ActionAid report, said: "There is an overwhelming sense that Haiti is drifting. People are surviving but survival is not enough; we also have to rebuild. There is no sense of urgency among the Haitian leadership and there is little progress on reconstruction with hundreds of thousands of people stuck in limbo. Haiti feels rudderless, beset by ad hocery because there is no clear leadership. There was an opportunity after the earthquake to make a real difference but it is slipping away. Unless something is done about housing and jobs, Haiti will sink lower. A city overwhelmed by thousands of encampments, run by gangs and landlords is a real possibility and that is the way to a failed state."

Already the poorest country in the western hemisphere before the earthquake, Haiti has over the past year fallen five points in the world's poverty league from 140 to 145 out of 182. Ms Moyo said: "Before the earthquake, 80 per cent of basic services were supplied by NGOs. There were few jobs before; there are none now. It feels like the government has given up and is waiting for the international community to do their jobs. This really is a broken a society."

Over the past year, international agencies have distributed about 100,000 tents and 750,000 tarpaulin kits that last for only 12 to 18 months. Replacing the tents will cost as much as $50m, which would otherwise pay for 20,000 semi-permanent homes. Haiti has no history of social housing, and even before the earthquake, relatively few people in the capital could afford private rents, instead living in overcrowded slums, shanty towns and squats. The earthquake destroyed up to 350,000 homes around the capital, and private landlords have increased rents by about 50 per cent in many areas.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed an independent panel last week to investigate the source of a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 3,300 people. International medical efforts stopped the spread from surging through the camps. But the UN's reputation has taken a hit as many blame the outbreak on its Nepalese peacekeepers. And women and girls have also felt abandoned by the peacekeepers as sexual violence has exploded, particularly in the camps where reports of gang rapes by armed young men are common.

Rapes are now endemic. And, in this broken state, the perpetrators are almost guaranteed immunity from prosecution. Armed gangs are reported to be running a number of the tent cities around the capital, terrorising their inhabitants and stealing food, according to a new Amnesty International report. And the country is now bracing itself for more unrest as the second round of presidential elections has been delayed until next month.

Even before the earthquake, a survey found more than 50 reported cases of rape every day in the capital. Poor security, crowded accommodation, no lighting and shared toilet facilities in the camps has led to "double the problem", according to Yolande Bazelais, the president of grass-roots organisation Favilek, a Creole acronym for Women Victims Rise. Favilek, set up by women who were raped during the 1991 coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, helps victims get to hospital and file a report to police but many are too frightened; others cannot afford the bus fare.

The Amnesty International report, Aftershocks: Women Speak Out Against Sexual Violence in Haiti's Camps, published last week, found thousands of women terrified to go to sleep because tents offer not even basic protection. They interviewed 50 women and girls who were victims of at least one attack, including one family in which the grandmother, mother and eldest daughter had all been raped. The delegation also witnessed gangs running camps, overseeing deliveries of food which was then stolen in the absence of any police or international security forces.

Javier Zuniga, the head of Amnesty International's delegation to Haiti, said: "With more than one million people living in tent cities, but only three of these cities meeting international standards for safety, space and basic needs, they absolutely provided the conditions for rape to flourish."

Daniela's story

Her home was destroyed in the earthquake but, since she owned the small plot of land where she is now living and retained the deeds, ActionAid was able to build a model transitional shelter. "When we were living under corrugated iron sheets I had skin problems and was constantly feeling ill," she said. "Since moving in, my health has improved and I'm no longer sick."

Josephmona's story

Josephmona is living in a tent. None of her children, aged 13, nine and six, goes to school. "We're desperate. People say there is land outside the city but it's not just about homes. It's about jobs as well. The government doesn't seem interested. If we wait for them to act we will die before it happens. Only ActionAid came along. No one should live like this."



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Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
Haiti one year on: put communities at the heart of reconstruction

Haiti's earthquake drew emergency help from the charity Article 25, but its architects' main focus is finding permanent solutions.

Haitian children are seen amid the rubble in Port-au-Prince, a year after the earthquake. Photograph: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

One year on from the devastating earthquake of January 2010, millions in Haiti are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. With food and water in short supply in the 1,300 temporary camps, serious threats to women's safety widely reported, and cholera having left its mark on an already dire public health situation, architectural solutions may seem low on the list of priorities.

But earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand in the same year are two illustrations that it's not earthquakes that kill people, it's buildings. Despite both measuring higher on the Richter scale than the Haitian quake, intelligent design and safer construction minimised the death tolls in Chile and New Zealand. Article 25, the UK's leading built environment charity, promotes the idea that when we build back in Haiti, we must build back better. Architecture is, as our trustee Lord Foster testifies, "a necessity and not a luxury".

Working with our partner Outreach International, Article 25 is breaking ground on the repair and reconstruction of dozens of schools, reinstating education as a driver for overcoming the trauma of the quake for hundreds of Haiti's children. On the ground for almost a year, Article 25 immediately adopted a long term approach, driven by the belief that without ensuring a sense of permanence in the relief stage, Haitians would remain trapped in a crippling state of dependency. Article 25 sees permanence as intrinsic to genuine recovery.

Our project in Pakistan that trained locals to build seismic-resistant housing within 100 days is an example of how disaster response does not have to adhere to the typical model of sticks and tarpaulin, buffeted by trickling aid agency provision. Following Pakistan's 2005 earthquake, Article 25 worked with communities to build prototype homes using locally sourced materials, designed to withstand future earthquakes. Through effective on-the-job training in construction techniques, locals are still building Article 25 houses, years after the training was completed. In this way, locals are transforming a relief-stage solution into a permanent one.

This experience proves that community participation is at the heart of sustainability in reconstruction projects. By placing local communities at the centre of the decision-making process, Article 25 leaves a community empowered and equipped with the necessary skills to rebuild and maintain their own environment. Article 25's work in Haiti over the past year has included a strong emphasis on community participation, using workshops to diagnose a long list of needs and encourage the community to prioritise those needs. These workshops help parents, staff and children become aware of the strengths and challenges of their existing education infrastructure, and to choose what is most important to them. Asking the community to establish their own needs and preferences means donor money makes the biggest difference on the ground.

With Article 25 staff as facilitators, workshops have included "problem trees", where communities are encouraged to dig deeper and recognise the root causes of problems. What has emerged is that shelter for displaced people, improved nutrition and health, more classrooms, and subsidised school supplies are key collective priorities. These issues are laid out in a "ranking exercise" in which communities asked to vote for the three issues they believed were of highest significance. A lunch programme emerged as the first priority for all participants, with internet access a close second. In a country where just 11% of the population are reported to have internet access, this is a clear sign from the next generation that they want to be better connected.

While the developed world has argued over the right solutions for Haiti over the past year, Haitians have too often been left out of the debate. Our workshop results show the people of Haiti themselves are aware of a lifeline: internet access could empower them with knowledge and and make their views heard. The Observer's recent suggestion box scheme is one that has facilitated exactly that. Recognising that local communities hold the knowledge of vernacular techniques allows a design to develop which becomes more powerful than a building. As a community member commented following an Article 25 workshop: "Thank you for coming to our village: you gave the community a voice."

Oxfam recently called the efforts of the government and international community a "quagmire of indecision and delay". Article 25 finds that only by harnessing local knowledge can we cut through the "quagmire" and make sustainable progress. By placing community participation and capacity building at the crux of reconstruction in Haiti, Article 25 ensures it is the people of Haiti who are becoming the authors of a safer, more sustainable future. It is critical that this kind of work in Haiti continues long after the journalists have gone home, and that we stay with this programme as long as it takes to help Haitians lift themselves out of paralysis and build back better.

• Robin Cross is CEO and Director of Projects, Article 25.




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