BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Two years after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, more still needs to be done to tackle deteriorating conditions and extensive sexual violence in makeshift camps where over half a million people live, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) said.
Around 520,000 Haitians displaced by 2010’s Jan. 12 quake still live in tents and under tarpaulin across some 800 settlements in the capital Port-au-Prince, according to latest figures from the Geneva-based an intergovernmental organisation.
The IOM said camp dwellers faced worsening conditions as donor funding and interest in Haiti’s reconstruction has waned.
“Free services like water have gone. Non-governmental organisations have had to pull out because of a lack of funding. Donor fatigue has set in. Conditions are really tough,” Leonard Doyle, IOM’s communications officer told AlertNet in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince.
“You can’t ignore these people who are enduring horrendous conditions. Rape is a big, big problem,” Doyle added. “A plastic tent offers no protection. It just takes a blade using a knife to enter a tent. Some women and girls have been victims of multiple rapes.”
While the number of Haitians living in camps has decreased by 66 percent from a July 2010 peak of 1.5 million, the pace of people leaving the camps has slowed recently. Over the last four months, the camp population has fallen by only 6 percent.
“The rate of departure is slowing down because the people who could leave have, and those who have found jobs have left. Those who remain are the most vulnerable,” Doyle said.
“The people who are left are the people with no money and no jobs. They are there because they have no better option. They have no choice.”
Some camps have been closed because people have been evicted by private landowners wanting to reclaim their land.
The IOM says 63,000 people have been evicted since July 2010, and many of those remaining in camps are under the threat of eviction.
“People are being evicted violently from camps,” said Doyle, adding that people are often forced to move to damaged housing or to areas at risk of landslides and flooding.
It is likely tens of thousands of Haitians will be living in camps for months to come, aid agencies say.
Some families living in camps have received a $500 rent subsidy, which can pay rent for up to a year, encouraging them to leave camps, the IOM says. Most families living in camps want to leave but many have nowhere to go.
Land-tenure problems, slow rubble clearance and the lack of a government policy on building new housing during the first year after the earthquake hampered efforts to relocate homeless Haitians to new housing or to repaired homes.
But some aid agencies say that the pace of resettling homeless Haitians will pick up following last year’s formation of a government under President Michel Martelly.
“We are inching towards better clarity on the land-rights issue. The government is working well with international agencies,” said Doyle.
While aid agencies and the government focus on finding housing solutions for those living in camps, tackling cholera also still remains a priority for the coming year, with peaks in the number of cholera cases expected during the next rainy season, due to start around May.
"One of our key priorities in 2012 will be the cholera response: cholera is deadly but it is easy to prevent and even easier to treat,” Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, said in a report released earlier this week.
“But access to clean water and sanitation is vital,” she added.
The cholera outbreak has killed around 7,000 Haitians since it began in October 2010.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)