1.3 million Haitians still without a home

Just days before the first anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, development agencies are warning that the effort to rebuild homes is being hampered by the prevailing confusion over who owns the land.

Capital city Port-au-Prince was reduced to rubble and more than 230,000 people died when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12 last year.

One year after the disaster and aid agencies estimate that 1.3 million people are still living in tents.

In a joint report, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Progressio and Tearfund say that the chief obstacle to constructing more homes is the “immense” difficulty of proving land ownership.

Prospery Raymond, who is based in Port-au-Prince and manages Christian Aid’s Caribbean programme, explained: “Most people were living in rented accommodation before the earthquake. It is likely that their landlord either did not have a title to land on which the house was built or their documents were lost in the earthquake.”

The ambiguity over who owns the land and the severely limited availability of private funds for rebuilding means that the construction of new homes has fallen mainly to local and international NGOs.

So far, they have been rebuilding on land made available by the state, but until much larger swathes of land are made available, the agencies warn that it will simply be impossible to construct the houses needed to free multitudes of homeless from life in a tent.

In the words of the agencies, the tent camps are “unacceptable”. They lack basic services and while the tents themselves may provide basic shelter from the elements, what they do not provide is security.

Women in the camps are particularly at risk of attack and live in a perpetual climate of fear, they say.

Sonia Pierre, who runs MUDHA, a women’s group supported by Christian Aid, said: “Many women get sick with nervousness; their nightmare starts every time the sun sets and night falls.

“One of them told us she sleeps with three pairs of jeans because this prevents would-be attackers from acting too quickly. This gives them more time to scream for help.”

Children are also suffering in the “educational vacuum” left by the break-up of many family unites in the displacement that followed the earthquake. With fewer schools around, educational facilities have been significantly undermined, the agencies warn.

“Even families who could afford to before cannot now afford to send their children to school this year because of the cost of school fees, books and uniforms,” says Christon St Fort of Tearfund partner, FEPH (Haitian Federation of Protestant Schools).

The difficulty of life in a tent camp has prompted many families to leave Port-au-Prince in search of more stable accommodation in the rural villages they grew up in.

With most of the aid effort concentrated on the capital, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Progressio and Tearfund have extended support to the countryside, where they are building homes and helping people find ways of making a living.

The report, Haiti Must Build Back Better, adds that the Haitian people must be more involved in the planning stages of reconstruction.

Lizzette Robleto, policy officer at Progressio: “If ordinary Haitians are not urgently given a greater role in the rebuilding process the solutions risk being inappropriate and ineffective.”