BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four years after a massive earthquake hit Haiti, around 170,000 people made homeless by the disaster are still living in makeshift tent settlements in dire conditions and are at threat of being forced out of the camps, rights group Amnesty International has said.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed more than 200,000 people, flattened much of the capital Port-au-Prince and left some 2.3 million Haitians homeless.
“It is outrageous and unacceptable that tens of thousands are still suffering in despair,” Chiara Liguori, Amnesty International’s researcher on the Caribbean said in a statement.
“Four years on, the Haitian government is not delivering on its obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing in Haiti.”
Around 300 tent camps, mostly dotted in and around Port-au-Prince, have little or no access to drinking water, toilets and waste disposal as donor funding and interest in Haiti’s reconstruction has waned.
With one toilet available for an average number of 114 people in tent camps, poor sanitation means camp residents are at risk of the water-borne diseases, including cholera, the rights groups said.
Often living in flimsy shelters and under tarpaulins, camp residents are also vulnerable to flooding, especially during the hurricane season, Amnesty said.
While the number of Haitians living in camps has decreased by nearly 90 percent from a July 2010 peak of 1.5 million, most people who have been relocated from camps have not moved into permanent housing, while many have been evicted forcibly from camps built on public land and by landowners who want to reclaim their land, Amnesty said.
The Haitian government and international aid agencies are running schemes to move families from camps into safe and repaired homes by offering them rental subsidies.
More than 55,000 have been relocated through rental subsidy programmes that give families about $500 to rent accommodation of their choice for a year and an additional grant of about $125, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“While these strategies have achieved a drastic reduction in the number of displacement camps, they have not contributed at all to solving the housing crisis that the earthquake exacerbated. It is like sweeping the problem under the carpet”, Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International’s special advisor said in a statement.
Forced evictions are one reason why camp numbers have fallen, Amnesty says.
Since July 2010, forced evictions accounted for 16,118 families leaving tent settlements, according to latest IOM figures. Approximately 78,000 people still living in tent camps are at high risk of being forcibly evicted, says the United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA.
Efforts to resettle quake survivors in new housing or repaired homes have been hampered by political uncertainty, poor coordination, a cholera epidemic and longstanding land tenure problems.
“Identifying solutions for the remaining displaced population is becoming more complex,” said OCHA in its latest report on Haiti.
The housing shortage in the capital was an acute problem even before the quake hit, with around 70 percent of people living in slums, in an impoverished country where 55 percent of the population of 10 million live on less than $1.25 a day.
Few new permanent and affordable homes are being built in Port-au-Prince, according to a January report by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW), a non-governmental organisation that monitors reconstruction efforts in Haiti.
The watchdog says government-led new housing projects - totaling $88 million and aimed at providing homes for around 3,600 families - are often marred by corruption and mismanagement.
“Even though there are newly housed families, many – probably the majority – are not necessarily victims of the earthquake. Also, several (housing projects) are plagued with lack of services and persistent acts of vandalism, theft and waste,” the watchdog said in its latest report.
The government of Michel Martelly has said that resettling camp dwellers and building new homes and government buildings remains a priority. The capital’s presidential palace and cathedral remain in ruins.
In October 2013, the Haitian government launched the country’s first national housing policy in a bid to address the shortage of 500,000 new homes that it is estimated Haiti needs by 2020.
But Martelly, who has been in office since 2011, faces criticism over the slow pace of reconstruction, along with mounting tensions over legislative and local elections that are two years overdue.
Opponents to Martelly say the political uncertainty is hampering reconstruction as the government faces ever bigger and more frequent anti-government protests over high food prices and corruption. Last November, thousands of Haitians took to the streets chanting anti-Martelly slogans and calling for his resignation.
Meanwhile, the government has vowed to push ahead with rebuilding efforts.
"We are going to press on the accelerator to advance the main projects, and Haitians will be proud of reconstruction," Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told reporters on Friday in Port-au-Prince.