Six months on, Haiti slips off the international agenda
12 July 2010

Concerns include lack of access to drinking water, the spread of infectious diseases, poor drainage, insufficient food, and assaults during the delivery of aid, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Christian Fuchs/JRS)
Earthquake survivors living in appalling circumstances

Port-au-Prince, Rome, Washington DC, 12 July 2010 – Six months after the earthquake disaster in Haiti, more than one million survivors continue to live in appalling conditions, with inadequate sanitation, limited access to services, insecurity and constant food shortages.

“It is time the Haitian government, international community and UN agencies take concrete steps to address the protection, food security, education, sanitation and other needs of the most vulnerable populations, including those living in unofficial camps. It is essential the international donor community release the funds promised for Haiti without restrictions and facilitate the involvement of Haitian political and civil society groups in tackling the humanitarian crisis and initiating reconstruction in the country”, said JRS Haiti Director Fr Wismith Lazard SJ.

Conditions in many of the nearly 1,400 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the capital, Port-au-Prince, are extremely critical. The case of the largest IDP camp, Automeca, with a population of 11,000, is typical: residents continue to live in shacks held up by rags and poles. There are no schools or electricity; sanitation is poor, the water barely drinkable and drainage, to say the least, hazardous. When heavy rain falls, garbage rushes through the camp.

“I have visited refugee and IDP camps throughout the world, but I must say I was shocked by the appalling conditions in Automeca and other camps. It is a national and international disgrace. Nearly everyone we spoke to complained of the lack of food and other basic essentials,” said JRS USA Director Fr Ken Gavin SJ.

While many international agencies claim that virtually all survivors have been reached with aid, many have received less than three deliveries of food. For instance, the UN World Food Programme did not make any food deliveries to Automeca camp between March and June. Food distributions are halted too early without assessing the impact on the most vulnerable groups. While JRS recognises the need to kick start the local economy, measures need to be taken to prevent unnecessary suffering.

While Haiti suffered from high levels of insecurity prior to the earthquake, the situation has deteriorated drastically since January. Increased insecurity, particularly in camps which frequently lack electricity and lighting at night, poses a particular threat to women and children. At a meeting with JRS Haiti on 20 June, seven IDP camp leaders highlighted numerous concerns, including the high incidence of violence and exploitation perpetrated against girls aged 11 to 15 – forced to exchange sex for food – and the deteriorating health of camp residents.

Moreover, the situation in unofficial camps is even worse. Throughout the city, unofficial camp residents receive little or no care from large aid organisations or international coordinating bodies; many have even been told leave the camps but have not been provided with alternative housing.

“JRS welcomes the moratorium on forced evictions issued by the Haitian government. Unfortunately, pressure from landowners on IDPs to evacuate the sites continues. Actions go so far as intermittent disconnection of the water supply, and refusals to allow the construction of more permanent shelters and street lighting. The government needs to use its authority to protect camp residents from this kind of harassment, and put more effort into identifying suitable shelter”, added Fr Lazard.

On 12 January 2010, more than 220,000 Haitians died – two percent of the population – and a further 300,000 were injured. With a total population of just over 10 million, the affected population in Haiti is estimated at three million. In June 2010, 1,342 IDP camps had been identified in the area affected by the earthquake, the majority with a population of between 100 and 1,000 families.

The earthquake crippled Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and severely damaged buildings and infrastructure in surrounding areas. An estimated 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were severely damaged.

Notes to the editor
For many years JRS has had a grassroots presence in Haiti and has provided humanitarian assistance to displaced Haitians in both the Dominican Republic and along the Haitian border. In addition, JRS has responded to the needs of Haitians following successive natural disasters, a food crisis, and repeated hurricanes.

JRS Haiti is focusing its current relief efforts in the Port-au-Prince area, working in seven camps that serve the needs of more than 21,000 displaced people in and around the capital, providing emergency assistance, psychosocial support, and training to community leaders to manage camps and civil society organisations.

Worldwide, JRS works in more than 50 countries. The organisation employs approximately 1,400 staff: lay people, Jesuits and other religious to meet the education, health, social and other needs of 500,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women. These services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

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