As Haitians Abandon Temporary Camps, New Concerns Arise

While the number of Haitians driven into makeshift tent camps by last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti is half what it was in July, the vast majority of those who have left either have been forced out by landowners or opted to leave to escape difficult conditions, the New York Times reports.

From a peak of 1,555 camps housing 1.5 million people in July, experts estimate that there are now 1,061 housing approximately 680,000 people. And while the dramatic decline in the camp population might appear to be a sign of progress, the International Organization for Migration estimates that only 4.7 percent of those who left did so because their homes have been rebuilt or repaired. Indeed, according to the Times, the majority of them appear to have been forced out by landowners or to escape crime and deteriorating conditions in the camps. As a result, many camp residents are staying with friends and family, living in tents or improvised dwellings outside the camps, or living in housing that is dilapidated, damaged, or partly collapsed.

Giovanni Cassani, a coordinator with IOM, told the Times that mass departures from the camps made it difficult to track and help displaced people and complicated the treatment and prevention of cholera, which has killed nearly five thousand people in Haiti since October. According to the United Nations, approximately 37 percent, or $1.85 billion, of the $5 billion in aid pledged by foreign governments and international agencies has been disbursed to the Haitian government and relief organizations operating in the country.

Foreign diplomats blame the slow pace of recovery on red tape and continuing political uncertainty, while the Haitian government complains that the ten thousand NGOs in the country have failed to coordinate their activities with local authorities and each other.

Even those who have been moved to plywood transition shelters — designed to last three to five years — have their concerns. "We have been relocated, yes, but the situation is the same," Michellange Bourdeau, a displaced Haitian, told the Times. "In the middle of the road others could see us, but where we are now, no one can see us and come to help. We are the forgotten."

Randal C. Archibold. "Haitians Forced Out of Tents to Homes Just as Precarious." New York Times 04/23/2011.