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The problems of resettlement for Haiti’s people

Last week, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN human rights office issued a joint appeal urging international governments not to repatriate Haitians while the country struggles to rebuild itself.

The plea from the United Nations (UN) came after reports that Haitians were being deported by countries such as Brazil, Jamaica and the United States. With over 600,000 people still living in tented camps following the earthquake in Haiti last year, the UN bodies urged foreign countries to allow Haitians to stay on humanitarian grounds, especially any unaccompanied minors, disabled or people needing medical care. In a joint letter, the UN reminded governments of the serious “protection gaps and the unmet basic humanitarian needs” which still exist in Haiti 18 months after the disaster. As the new rainy season approaches, there is particular concern over a possible rise in cholera cases. The epidemic has already killed over 5,000 people.

The new President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, has said he will prioritise measures in parliament which address the need for safe and permanent housing for the quake survivors. However, the President has so far been unable to start any legislative work. Mr Martelly needs a prime minister to assemble a government and in a set-back last week, his proposed candidate was rejected by the Haitian parliament. The chamber of deputies voted against the appointment of Daniel Rouzier, an economist and businessman. Calling Mr Rouzier “the right man” for helping to deliver on his election promises, Mr Martelly was quoted by Reuters as saying “today is a sad day for Haiti, but we cannot waste time. We are going to call on our teams to be here to start working and to find solutions to the people’s problems”.

Mr Martelly faces a daunting task with regards to building permanent homes for the many hundreds of thousands still living under canvas. The vast majority of these people were in rented accommodation before the earthquake. And though funds have been donated to build houses, suitable land is in short supply. Non-governmental agencies (NGOs) cannot afford to construct buildings where the ownership of land is unclear and could be contested, since the re-housed might then face eviction.

Even before the earthquake, land registry in Haiti was not computerised and the lack of proper records made property development a risky venture. To work around this problem, some NGOs are concentrating their efforts on helping people to resettle in the countryside. Christian Aid is one such organisation and has been providing families with new homes and livestock to make a fresh start outside Port-au-Prince. This is in line with the Haitian government’s own policy of trying to encourage people out of the crowded capital and back onto the land.  With the construction of new houses proving so difficult in the city, the charity believes that re-homing people in the countryside is one way of giving them a chance to build a new life.

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