Haitian homeless feel abandoned years after quake

2013-01-11 12:30
A view of a tent city in Marassa, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. (Thony Belizaire, AFP)

A view of a tent city in Marassa, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. (Thony Belizaire, AFP)

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Port-au-Prince - Three years after Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake, hundreds of thousands of homeless people are still at risk from crime, disease and the elements in crowded makeshift camps.

The 2010 disaster triggered a global outpouring of sympathetic rhetoric and pledges of aid for the already impoverished Caribbean nation, but residents and aid agencies complain that rebuilding and re-development has been too slow.

Around 358 000 people are still living rough in scores of camps scattered around the capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding districts, exposed to a crime wave, a cholera outbreak and - from time to time - hurricanes.

"We are without support," complained Wisly Decimus, a former teacher who has given up trying to run classes in a tent in the Marassa camp, just outside the capital, where 5 000 people cling to life beside a dangerous river.

"We have been abandoned by the authorities. January 12 will be the anniversary of three years of suffering, misery and contempt," he spat.

Global aid agency Oxfam, one of several foreign development bodies engaged in the reconstruction effort, say progress has been made, but it is often seen as piecemeal and unco-ordinated, lacking in central government direction.

Three steps forward, two steps back

"What continues to be needed is a comprehensive, realistic long-term resettlement plan led by Haitians for Haitians," said Andrew Pugh, head of the Oxfam program in Haiti, in a statement to mark the three-year anniversary.

While Pugh hailed the "determination" of the Haitian people and the generosity of international donors, he said Haiti was let down by "decades of collective neglect and weak governance".

"Basically, it's three steps forward and two steps back," he said.

Rubble has been cleared since the 2010 quake, in which around a quarter-of-a-million people were killed as concrete buildings in the capital and surrounding towns shattered and slammed down on terrified residents.

At the peak of the subsequent humanitarian crisis, around 1.5 million people were homeless, so progress has been made in repairing and rebuilding thousands of homes, although much remains to be done.

And the dangers have been underlined by a series of follow-up tragedies, such as the cholera outbreak apparently triggered by sewage from a UN military base that claimed 8 000 lives and sickened more than 635 000 people.


Many of the camps have become semi-permanent settlements, resembling the shanty towns many Haitians had already inhabited in what was already the Western hemisphere's poorest country, and life there is grim.

"We have no choice but to live here, but it's the worst place to bring up children. There are many rapes in the tents, and there's child prostitution in the camps," complained Marassa resident Danielle Orniamise.

The alleys between the tents are beaten earth, mud when tropical storms pass, churning up the earth and spreading raw sewage. Dozens of children in tattered clothes play to pass the time. There is no school.

"You can't imagine how we live here. There are things you cannot speak of. Talking of misery, and actually seeing it, are different things," complained Adonik Osse, a wedding photographer living in Marassa.

On 14 January, camp residents plan a roadside demonstration to draw the weak Haitian state's attention to their plight, without much hope of success.

"Vehicles drive past us and back again a few metres away, but no one notices us. But if nothing is done, one day we'll take to the streets," warned Jacky Narcisse as an AFP reporter visited the camp.

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