For many in Haiti, there’s nowhere to call home

Jacqueline Charles, the award winning Haiti reporter for the Miami Herald, explains how in Haiti, lack of suitable land is hampering relocation of quake victims. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the full article below.

Brazilian peacekeepers operating oversized bulldozers and tractors cleared a barren lot of overgrown weeds and debris, prepping it for its newest residents.

But after days of digging 50 feet for water, the 25-acre site in the shadow of Haiti’s central mountain range was abruptly abandoned. “There was no fresh water. The water underneath is salty,” said Charles Clermont, the Haitian businessman assigned to help the quake-devastated nation figure out how to shelter more than 1.2 million displaced people. With the looming rainy season and housing proposals coming to disaster-prone Haiti, both government officials and relief workers are in a race against nature to relocate hundreds of thousands of quake victims living in squalid camps prone to flooding. But in their fervent pursuit of rain-resistant shelter, they are finding an old problem quickly becoming a new one: lack of suitable land. “We have the stocks to shelter a lot of people. We do not have the land to put them on. I cannot invent land,’ Gregg McDonald, lead coordinator for the U.N. shelter cluster said. “There are lots of discussions going on around land, and land issues. Nothing is resolved.”

. . .

Christensen says land is “the invisible standard problem in all earthquakes and in all natural disasters.” But he said that in Haiti, the level of poverty, substandard conditions before the quake and questions of land ownership present a set of challenges.

“It’s not an issue you solve in five days, in three days,” Christensen said. “We need to have meetings with the bright people in Haiti who have studied the issue. We need to talk with lawyers about land laws, we need to talk with urban planners, we need to talk with mayors, we need to talk with the industry, the private sector: What are their intentions on investing in Haiti? Where do they foresee the economic investments will go to generate jobs?” Martern said everyone here is “fighting the clock” against rain. Heavy rains already triggered mudslides in the north, and flash flooding in the south.

Rains in Port-au-Prince threaten to make a bad situation even worse especially in a densely populated and flood-prone camp like the Champs de Mars, where 29,658 people were living, according to the International Organization for Migration.

“The forcing function in my mind will come when the real rain starts,” said Brigadier-General Nicolas E. Martern, a Canadian military officer assigned to the 18th Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, N.C., which was deployed to Haiti.

“If the person knows that his house is good, that he’s being flooded in this area, and that services are not being given the way he can, there will come a point after two or three days where he will have to make some hard choices.”

The migration organization determined the camp population last week after registering residents, and issuing them hand-written ID cards. The agency has also begun mapping all tent cities, using satellite imaging, to determine which ones are in a flood zone.

The goal is not just to determine who is living where, and who can be relocated to their homes, but also how much transitional housing is needed in the country.

“It’s a complex crisis,” Clermont said. “You cannot be dealing with it in fragments.”

Even before Haiti’s biggest disaster leveled more than 200,000 homes and buildings, land was already a problem in this densely populated nation where the Champs de Mars camp now boasts one person per 53 square feet, instead of the international norm of one person per 484 square feet.

Illegal squatters living on private and government land, often in substandard conditions with nothing more than dirt for a floor, are as much a norm as people spending their life savings in corruption-ridden legal battles over land title.

Hoping to provide the government with several options, engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have begun tagging homes. This week, Haiti’s public works department also began training 200 Haitian engineers on how to do the structural assessments. The goal is to assess 100,000 houses and buildings by summer.

“Everyone is expecting from us a magic wand. There is no magic wand. It’s taking time,” said Igor Chantefort of the migration organization. “It’s a quite difficult process involving a lot of stakeholders and actions. But things are moving.”

For the full article go to

Photo: Rudeson Laurent, 10, takes a drink of water after brushing his teeth on a smoldering pile of trash.
(Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)

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