Haitians driven out of tent camps remain in precarious housing

By Randal C. Archibold
New York Times / April 24, 2011

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The way Robert Darvin sees it, he is one of the lucky ones.

After being evicted from a tent camp a few months ago, he, his wife, and their three children crammed into a rebuilt home the size of a small U-Haul trailer. But at least a roof shelters their heads, even if it’s a flimsy one that allows the rain to pour through.

“It is made of cheap cement,’’ Darvin said, pointing to fresh cracks in the walls. He sounded at once relieved at having found a place and fretful over what another earthquake or hurricane might do to it. “If you think too much about it, you lose your mind.’’

More than half of the Haitians driven into tent cities and makeshift camps by the January 2010 earthquake have moved out of them, officially bringing down the displaced population to 680,000 from a peak of 1.5 million, according to the International Organization for Migration.

But what may seem like a clear sign of progress, officials warn, is also a cause of concern.

Very few of the people who left the camps — 4.7 percent, by the group’s estimate — did so because their homes had been rebuilt or repaired. Instead, a vast majority appear to have been forced out through evictions by landowners, or to have left the camps to escape the high crime and fraying conditions there.

Now, most of the former camp dwellers are doubled up in their friends’ or families’ homes, scattered at random in tents and improvised dwellings, or living in “precarious housing’’ that is dilapidated, damaged or partly collapsed, the organization said. In some cases, the cinder blocks that were toppled by the quake are being cobbled together to make walls again, only more unevenly and wobbly than before.

About 37 percent of the more than $5 billion pledged last year by foreign governments and international agencies has been disbursed to the Haitian government, the Haiti reconstruction fund, nongovernmental organizations, or other entities, according to the United Nations.

Diplomats have complained of red tape in Haiti and the uncertain outcome of last year’s chaotic presidential election, which was finally resolved when a popular singer, Michel Martelly, prevailed in a runoff in March. He takes office in May, and has pledged to speed things up.

The Haitian government, in turn, has said that some 10,000 nongovernmental groups have failed to coordinate with them, slowing project approvals.

As the delays have continued, waves of people have left the camps, often with nowhere to go. In a survey of 1,033 residents from 22 dismantled camps, the migration group found that evictions accounted for the largest share of departures, about 34 percent. But high crime (13.6 percent), poor conditions (13.9 percent), and the threat of rain or hurricanes (16.4 percent) also took a toll.

Hundreds of camps have disappeared; there are 1,061 now, down from a peak of 1,555 in July. One of the more striking examples — a jumble of more than 300 tents and lean-tos perched precariously along the thin median of a six-lane road — was dismantled in January after officials found space nearby for transition shelters housing 180 families.

The plywood shelters are meant to be temporary, lasting three to five years. More than 100,000 such transition shelters were to be built in Haiti, but less than half of them are finished, hung up largely by the slow pace of removing the rubble and by the difficulties in finding land and financing. top stories on Twitter

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