Though billions of dollars have been pledged in aid by donors and governments, fewer than 50,000 people may have been resettled so far. Though many acknowledge the problem of finding land for new homes, some activist and rights groups are now becoming angry at the lack of progress.
Some media commentators are also expressing bewilderment about the situation in Haiti. In an article last week, the Guardian’s reporter in Haiti asked why the government couldn’t use some of the 5.6 billion dollars pledged by international donors to acquire land under a compulsory purchase and compensation scheme. Once land is available, ‘transitional homes’ could then be built speedily and at a total cost of 200 million dollars.
The situation for many of Haiti’s camp dwellers is certainly becoming desperate. A report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week highlights the squalid conditions in which many women and girls are living. The rights organisation interviewed 128 women and girls in 15 of Haiti’s camps. Many of their tents have mud floors and the occupants had no money to improve their conditions.
With high unemployment, some are turning to prostitution. Women can expect little more than a dollar for sex, but even small amounts of money help pay for food. Without protection, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases is high. The number of unwanted pregnancies has also soared. Pregnancy rates in the camps are three times higher than in other urban areas. Some women resort to illegal and unsafe abortions. More than 1 in 10 maternal deaths in Haiti are linked to complications from botched abortions such as infections or haemorrhaging.
From interviews with the women, HRW also found that many were unable to access proper medical help. Though hospitals and clinics are providing free basic healthcare, the poorest Haitians cannot afford transport costs to hospitals. Some of the young women told HRW about giving birth on the floor of their tents or in the street. One 23 year-old called Benita, who didn’t have the money to pay for transportation when she went into labour, gave birth in the camp and her baby died the next day. Some pregnancies, particularly among young girls, are also the result of rape. Because of the stigma attached, the victims often fail to seek medical care or advice. The rights group is urging the Haitian government and international donors to address the problems being faced by women still living in the camps and tackle the conditions “giv[ing] rise to maternal and infant deaths”.