Here’s a feature story that ran in yesterday’s Free Speech Radio News newscast:
Saturday marked the third anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake. UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton flew in for a brief, somber ceremony held with Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, at a mass grave outside the capital city…
AMBIENT SOUND TENT CAMPS
Walking through the Carradeux camp in Port-au-Prince, it’s easy to get lost. 10,000 families live here. At the entrance, there are neat rows of transitional shelters – wooden one-room shacks.
Then comes a maze of tents and tarp coverings crowding together on the dusty hillside. This area is called “Refuge,” and it predates the official, front section of the camp.
An international NGO once provided Refuge with potable water, but has long since left. Now people trek to the edge of the camp to purchase water for 8 centers a bucket. This task usually falls to the children.
In front of one tarp shelter, Guerdy Charles sits on the ground as a friend combs her hair. She said she lost her SISTER, aunt, uncle, and home in the quake.
She’s been here three years. But she manages, she says.
FEMALE V/O CHARLES: “You can find a person who lets you borrow a little money, you go in the street to sell something when you can, and you feed your kids, try to keep them in school.”
MANY DISPLACED PEOPLE QUESTION how much longer will they be ABLE TO STAY here. Two years ago, Port-au-Prince’s camp population was at its peak – nearly 2 million people. Today, there are still an estimated 360,000 people in the camps.
Aid groups point to the removal of over a 1 million people from the camps as a sign of success. But many were forcibly evicted, or chose to leave the camps as conditions deteriorated. Only 25% of that reduction has come from official relocation efforts.
The International Federation of the Red Cross says it’s moved 10,000 families out of the camps since the earthquake. The Red Cross offered rental subsidies plus livelihood grants, including facilitating moves out to Haiti’s rural provinces. Its goal for the coming year is resettle another 5,000 families across 15 camps.
Martinez Ascuncion, a community coordinator with the organization, said the program has been so successful that all the other major aid groups have adopted it.
But she acknowledged that in the Refuge section of Carradeux, a majori ty of earthquake victims rejected the Red Cross’ offers for resettlement. It’s been almost a year since the Red Cross completely withdrew from the camp, after many families did move out.
ASCUNCION: “I can show you how many families we’ve moved from Refuge. The thing was, what happened there – and this is the truth – people kept moving into the camp as people vacated, because the committees asked for money. You know, you pay rent to move in here and you can be an IDP.”
She said the camp’s Haitian representatives, who formed a committee, had been exploitative and abusive.
Back in the camp, FSRN spoke to nearly a dozen residents. Their ire was directed squarely at the Red Cross. Guerdy Charles said the organization’s offer was too cheap for them to take seriously.
FEMALE V/O CHARLES: “They did not offer us housing. They offered people a little bit of money to go rent a place. Those of us who stayed here, we saw that that’s not good for us… The Red Cross has nothing to do with us any more. We’ve been obliged to stay here. It would be great if they provided us housing! The tarps are terrible for us. We could work and manage, but we don’t have housing.
ALTHOUGH CONDITIONS IN THE CAMPS ARE DIRE, Analyst Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic and Policy Research says THINGS AREN’T NECESSARILY BETTER FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE LEFT.
“Those that have been given relocation options, and that’s generally more recently been the one-year rental subsidy, you know, that started a year ago. And now you have people whose one year is up. And I think there’s a large question as to now, what happens to them. So we’ve seen the relocation part starting, but nothing starting on the revitalization programs. And it creates a big disconnect between what people expect when people move out of camps, and how it actually ends up for people in the future.”
ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE IS Claudy Charles. Over a year ago, Catholic Relief Services linked her with a one-time rental subsidy and an additional grant totaling several hundred dollars. But she doesn’t have a job. They were evicted. Charles and her five children moved to a dirt clearing with other quake victims six months ago. The camp was once serviced by the NGO World Vision.
Before the rental subsidy the family lived in a white burlap tent that lasted for over a year. Now they sleep under a patchwork of graying USAID tarps propped up by sticks.
Charles is not eating as well as she used to. She’s become much skinnier. But SHE’S STILL PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE. With some bricks, she’s laid the foundation for a house, built way up on a hillside amidst foraging goats. When she saves up enough money, she says she’ll finish it.
FEMALE V/O “I don’t have money left to pay for the apartment. Now, I’m in a camp. I found a friend who helped me come here. So that I could live. I’m with my five children. I’m living. When you’re in front of those NGOs and you ask them for something, they don’t really help you. Eventually, they don’t bother with you any more. You have problems, but you remain alone. ”
It’s projected that there will be least 230,000 people still living in tent camps a year from now. Ansel Herz, Port-au-Prince, FSRN.