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The waiting game in Haiti

Last Sunday, the people of Haiti turned out to vote for a new president and government. Following problems at certain polling stations, 12 of the 18 presidential candidates denounced the election as a ‘massive fraud’ and called for a rerun. Street protests and rallies also erupted in Port-au-Prince and other cities. Funded and backed by the international community, the election process was judged to be generally ‘acceptable’ by United Nations (UN) officials, who said it should be considered legitimate.

As the results are awaited, ordinary Haitians have more immediate and pressing concerns to contend with. Feeding themselves, finding work and keeping safe from the cholera epidemic occupy most people. And now some families have an additional problem to face. Ten months after the earthquake, thousands of Haitians living in temporary camp settlements are being threatened with eviction by owners who want to reclaim their land.

Around 65% of the temporary camps have been set up on private land. The camp of Cap y Verte in Cité Soleil is one of them. Cap y Verte is currently home to 8,000 people. But over the last few months the landlords have been demanding its disbandment and may resort to violence in order to evict people. Another camp where the owner wants his land returned is Cité Maxo in the Petionville area of Port-au-Prince. Cité Maxo has 7,000 residents who have created a well-run settlement on the steep rocky slopes above the capital. Here, the walk-ways between the shelters of tarpaulin, wood and tin are clean and tidy. Some residents have even made miniature gardens with potted plants. There is no smell from the toilets or any litter and the camp is run democratically with an elected 8-man committee. The head of the committee is Vital Martin. Vital knows the landowner wants everyone to move, but says the camp dwellers are “stuck”, most having no jobs or income. “We don’t want to stay here forever, but can’t move,” he says.

Lilianne Fan, the co-ordinator for the UN’s housing project in Haitia, admits that forced evictions of families living on temporary sites are becoming more of a problem. But moving people back to permanent homes is a huge task fraught with difficulties. Where houses remain standing, their former occupants are mostly unable to pay rent or show title deeds which prove their legal tenure. And though around half of the houses have been labelled ‘green’ or structurally solid by engineers, with another quarter categorised as ‘yellow’ or easily repaired, the supporting infrastructure in many areas has yet to be put in place. A huge quantity of debris also remains to be cleared. It is estimated that less than 2% of all the rubble has so far been removed.

So while the Haitian politicians wait for the results of the election, their people wait in a state of limbo, unsure how long they can stay where they are and even more uncertain when the promised reconstruction will take place and they will have somewhere to call home.

Laurinda Luffman signature