Quake-hit Haitians still trapped in ‘state of emergency’

The humanitarian response in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake appears “paralysed”, with survivors still living in a “state of emergency” nine months after the disaster, Refugees International (RI) said on Thursday.

Some 1.3 million homeless Haitians are sheltering in 1,300 makeshift camps in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Many people are angry about their living conditions and eviction threats, the rights group said in its latest report from the field. Gang leaders and landowners are harrassing the homeless, and sexual violence is on the rise, it added.

“Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living,” the report said.

Not only are U.N. police patrols random but they lack vehicles, and police officers do not have translators so cannot communicate with camp residents, RI said.

The report catalogues how medical agencies are receiving large numbers of cases of failed street abortions, some involving girls as young as 10, and details the death of a child when a landowner burned 13 tents to get the displaced off his land.

RI said the U.N. coordination system is still not prioritising activities to protect people’s rights, and was scathing about what it described as the U.N.’s “fundamental dysfunctions”.

It was especially critical of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the U.N. body in charge of camps, saying it needs to take its responsibilities more seriously with 70 percent of camps lacking proper management.

“People are being threatened by gangs and women are getting raped. While coping with this crisis would be an enormous challenge for any agency, far more can be done to allocate camp managers and coordinate assistance,” RI President Michel Gabaudan said in a statement.

“Practically no one is available to communicate with the people living in these squalid camps and find better ways to protect them,” he said.

‘INEXPERIENCED AND UNDER-EQUIPPED’

While the IOM is under-equipped to fulfill its protection role with only three protection officers out of a staff of 700, the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), the U.N. agency charged with protecting people’s basic rights, lacks experience in coping with disasters, RI said.

It recommended the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR play a bigger role in the so-called protection cluster because of its greater experience in this field.

“Not enough emphasis was put at the beginning on ensuring that the protection side of the operation was functioning and not enough attention was put on bringing Haitian civil society groups who have decades of experience of working with the communities…into the operation,” RI’s Melanie Teff told AlertNet.

“I think unfortunately we’re seeing now that things are not functioning as well as they should because of that lack.”

At the top of RI’s list of recommendations is that U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos establish a full-time humanitarian coordinator post in Haiti. The current humanitarian coordinator is also the U.N. resident coordinator and deputy special representative of the Secretary-General for the U.N. peacekeeping force MINUSTAH.

However, a U.N. official told AlertNet that idea is inappropriate at a time when the emphasis should be on looking at “synergies” between humanitarian and recovery efforts.

Part of the problem is that money promised by the international community has still not been distributed, RI said. Another factor is unresolved issues over land ownership.

Imogen Wall, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), defended the world body’s response to the disaster.

“It’s one of the biggest humanitarian operations in the world right now. It’s running every day – basic medical services, water supply, shelter redistribution, patrolling of camps, all sorts of stuff (is) going on every day,” Wall told AlertNet by phone from Haiti.

“I think paralysed is the wrong word, totally.”

For the original press release go to http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/VDUX-89ZTHE?OpenDocument

Photo by Jeremy Cowart

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