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Haiti’s need for bulldozers instead of tanks

In his final speech to the United Nations (UN) last week, the outgoing president of Haiti, Rene Preval, spoke of the need for the UN to refocus its mission in Haiti.

The UN currently has a peacekeeping force of over 12,000 troops in the country. After 11 years of an armed UN presence, Mr Preval told the 15-nation UN Security that the troops felt like an “occupation force” and it was now time for the military operation to be turned into a civilian one. “Tanks, armoured vehicles and soldiers” should be replaced with “bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors” and experts to help the legal system, said Mr Preval. Although the troops were needed to prevent major violence in the past, the outgoing president maintained that instability in Haiti is now mostly due to underdevelopment and lack of economic opportunity.

Haitians are hoping that the new government will be able to create the stable conditions necessary for economic growth. The person who will be taking on the leadership of that government is Michel Martelly, the singer and political outsider who won the recent presidential run-off with nearly 68 per cent of the vote. Known as ‘Sweet Mickey’, Mr Martelly thanked all his supporters and tweeted “We’ll work for all Haitians. Together we can do it.

The task faced by Mr Martelly and his new government when they take up office in May is a daunting one. Nearly 700,000 Haitians are still living in the temporary camps which were set up after the earthquake and the conditions in some camps are squalid and unsanitary. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), many families also face the threat of eviction. Some evictions are taking place in an orderly manner, with landowners giving proper warning, but many families are being forced to leave their shelters at a moment’s notice under the threat of violence and without opportunity of finding somewhere else to stay. Humanitarian groups are worried that the scale of evictions is now outpacing efforts to provide alternative housing. And the problem is expected to grow, with nearly 70 per cent of displaced Haitians situated on private land.

However, the solution isn’t simply one of sourcing more bulldozers, as Mr Preval’s remark to the UN Council might suggest. As well as the clearing of land, much work has to be done to establish legal ownership of potential sites for rebuilding. This is proving problematic, since most documentation was destroyed in the earthquake. A worker for the IOM in Haiti told Alertnet that the international community was ready to create new housing, but “land needs to be made available”. Until sites are found for the resettlement of the homeless and land owners compensated, the IOM representative said simply, “everything is stuck”.

Laurinda Luffman signature