Haiti: a new chapter

107428061 300x200 Haiti: a new chapterOn Saturday the people of Haiti will mark a new chapter in their country’s history as Michael Martelly becomes the island nation’s 56th President.

Waiting in the wings will be hundreds of international organisations and bilateral government donors, supported by millions of dollars of investments, looking to the new government to drive forward their human development strategies.

These strategies are strongly based on the fundamental tenets of economic opportunity and poverty reduction. They are key schemes and policies most humanitarian organisations and donors pledged in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake; and will be critical to the physical and economic rebuilding of Haiti.

But as a new vision for Haiti is created, how can we ensure it is an inclusive vision which recognises the needs of the most vulnerable, 680,000 of whom are still living under canvas in camps in and around Port au Prince? What impact will a new government have on the work of the humanitarian community; and how will it approach the difficulties which have held back the recovery process?

The weight of expectation on the new government will be heavy, but now is not just a time to ask what the politicians of Haiti can do. We must all step up and push for a more effective way of working with local communities to support them in their recovery.  We must all be accountable.

This will mean facing the challenges with a sense of collective responsibility. The inevitable truth is that tens of thousands of people are likely to remain in camps and some larger camps are likely to become permanent settlements, shantytowns or even slums. The Red Cross remains committed to providing some basic support but what is the long term strategy for the camp population?

Some people are in camps because they have no other option, some hope for better healthcare, some that they may get priority for shelter. But the simple fact is that camps will exist as long as people do not have a more viable solution. The Red Cross has provided over 8000 families with safe and improved shelter solutions, in addition to the massive emergency shelter programme which reached over 900,000 people, but we have been massively restrained by a lack of suitable, available land.

We have noticed that as some families are moved to shelters we are providing, more are coming into the camps from the slums as conditions there are pretty bad.

Creating incentives for land owners to make space available on the outskirts of towns in and around Port au Prince should be a government priority. Estimates suggest 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince residents were renters or squatters before the earthquake and so large scale efforts to repair houses will be the cornerstones of transitional and permanent reconstruction efforts in the coming years. Yet too often we are hearing of houses being repaired only for rent prices to be hiked up by the owners meaning tenants are priced out of the market.

Policies focused on protecting renters must be introduced, along with rent subsidies. Evictions are of huge concern as well, and action must be taken at government level. The interests of the overwhelming majority of Haitians who are tenants, not owners, must be safeguarded.

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