HAITI: Haiti Six Months Later: Still Suffering

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Latin America Working Group
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

“Recovery in Haiti is one of the most complex humanitarian and development challenges in modern times.”

It has now been six months since Haiti's devastating earthquake. In this time, international governments, aid organizations and concerned individuals have donated vast amounts of money and countless hours to the relief effort. But, there are still real concerns about recovery efforts. Last week, TransAfrica Forum hosted a congressional briefing,“Haiti Six Months Later: Reports from the Ground,” to share the devastating news: “what has emerged in the six month period since the quake is a confusing mix of good intentions gone awry.”

In their newly-released report, Haiti Cherie: My Dear Haiti, TransAfrica Forum said that camp conditions remain “atrocious.” Camp residents face problems including:
Infrequent food and potable water distribution;
Insufficient washing and sanitation facilities;
Inadequate security, particularly for vulnerable populations;
Minimal job and educational opportunities; and
Inadequate and unsafe temporary housing structures.
At the briefing, Melinda Miles of the Haiti Response Coalition called IDP camp conditions “inhumane and intolerable.”

“When you are in Port-au-Prince, or any of the surrounding earthquake-affected areas, you see people still living under sheets,” Miles testified. “People are living in tents that were distributed in the first weeks after the earthquake that fray or break open in the tropical sun within a couple of weeks, some within a couple of days. Most of the camps don't have proper drainage so now that it's raining every day, there is an immediate threat of flooding and people being injured in mudslides. The Haitian people are now sitting ducks for hurricane season. They are living in precarious situations without access to even the most basic things like water delivery every week.”

Gender-based violence is another horrific reality of camp life for many Haitians. In a statement prepared for the briefing, MADRE, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, the University of Minnesota's Human Rights Center and Digital Democracy divulged that “women and girls living in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps face alarming rates of rape and other sexual violence. Inadequate security and lack of privacy in the IDP camps leave women vulnerable to sexual assault and the associated risks of disease transmission and psychological trauma… At least half of the victims are Haitian girls under the age of eighteen and medical services are overwhelmed and unable to meet women's healthcare needs stemming from the assaults—many women suffer from depression and are at risk for suicide.”

Nicole C. Lee of the TransAfrica Forum noted the particular danger for young Haitian women during the briefing. “Most of the women reporting rape are younger women: sixteen, seventeen,” she reported. “Their parents died in the earthquake and everybody knows that they are alone, so they have no network to turn to, and it makes them clearly vulnerable. They are too old for adoption in the United States or anywhere else, and yet they still are, in so many ways, children. These girls have no idea where to turn.”

Unacceptable camp conditions are just one of the many challenges facing Haiti six months after the earthquake. Much of the aid pledged by nations around the world has yet to arrive, while many orphans are still without care and people continue to be forcibly evicted from IDP camps, left with nowhere to go. Aid organizations continue to call for decentralization, a stronger emphasis on Haitian capacity building and greater collaboration between relief organizations.

If reconstruction efforts in Haiti do not improve, TransAfrica Forum cautions, “The failures of the post-crisis period will set the stage for the reconstruction period: national and international corruption, continued human rights violations, wasted resources, and most importantly, continued suffering and loss for the people of Haiti.”