Solidarity with the homeless of Haiti
Port-au-Prince, April 30, 2011
My dear compatriots and friends all over the world,
From January 12, 2010 up to the present day, the Haitian population has been
engulfed by a long dark night. This descent into hell made of pain, despair
and fear was reported at great length by the national and international
The only glimmer of hope lies in the solidarity you have shown each other on
the field, and in the friendship and generosity of our friends abroad.
It has helped some of us to survive and to keep hope alive. This now allows
us to regroup within the “Solidarity Movement with the Homeless in Haiti”
(MOSOSAH). Our aim is to reflect on Haiti’s future in the short and long
term; and to participate in the reconstruction of our country.
We do not want to bequeath future generations the legacy of those moments of
despair that have kept us at bay, those moments when our very own humanity
and survival were challenged. Therefore, we strongly believe that it is time
to rethink Haiti; in a different way than we did before the earthquake of
2010 happened. The time has come to make possible what we thought was
A particularly deadly earthquake:
We believe that such major crises bring along great opportunities to pull
ourselves together, but only under the condition that we try harder than
ever before, and that we try and redefine the bigger picture.
In light of recent studies on the earthquakes that have hit Haiti and other
parts of the world – and more recently, the one that struck Japan – we came
to the conclusion that the largest number of deaths and injuries from the
disaster of January 12 has not been caused by the earthquake itself, but
rather by a great lack of compliance to safety regulations, poor housing
conditions and constructions, and by a general lack of foresight. Natural
disasters are not the killers: the living conditions of people in the
neighboring areas at risk are.
With a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale, the earthquake of January 12
has officially killed 320,000 people, without even being followed by a
tsunami. In comparison, the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, with a
magnitude of 9.0, and which was followed by a tsunami with a +10 meters-high
wave, has caused between 25,000 and 30,000 dead and missing. That is about
ten times fewer victims. And when Chile was stricken by an earthquake with
an 8.8 magnitude one month after Haiti, it ?only? resulted in 555 deaths.
From a scattered rural settlement to overcrowded cities:
We therefore analyzed the causes that led to bad housing conditions. It
first appears to be based on the very history of Haiti. The only way to
escape slavery before the Revolutionary War was the “marronage” in the steep
mountains. Scattered settlements ensued. Later on, the national state took
over from the colonial state, yet peasants remained reluctant to be fully
integrated into the nation-state. The scattered settlements in the hills
But in our day and age, modern commodities such as electricity, running
water, education, jobs, the wage system, as well as opportunities to access
a different lifestyle, have become enviable points of attraction, which
can?t be offered in the hills. City life, from the standpoint of our
farmers, is far better than life on the countryside – hence the massive
migration movements. The classical scheme sees people moving to the nearest
town, then to the regional capital, then to the national capital, then
internationally (strong Diaspora, boat people, flying-people, second, third
generation and so on.)
Furthermore, the majority of our cities were built during the colonial era.
They are coastal – therefore exposed to the potential risk of being hit by
tsunamis – and face the old metropolis of France and outer countries of
Europe. Port-au-Prince, the capital, was originally conceived for about
400,000 people. It has now become a megalopolis of more than 2,000,000
inhabitants. All chiefs-towns like Cap-Ha?tien, Gona?ves, Les Cayes, Jacmel,
J?r?mie and so on – with the notable exception of Fort-Libert?, off centered
to the extreme north-east of the country – are overcrowded. Two sub-regional
capitals (Saint-Marc in the Artibonite and Ouanaminthe on the north-eastern
border of the Dominican Republic) follow the same path.
In order to cram all these people, we started building on the full range of
properties, by fragmenting them to the extreme, and therefore suppressing
any emergency exit. Many generations within the same family tend to share
the same house, as well as various relatives (cousins and also family
friends). Therefore, new stories were built on top of each house, and due to
the annual frequencies of cyclones on Haiti, constructions made of concrete
became very common. Those who could not afford a decent home would go live
in the shanty towns, which are hazardous, both socially and in terms of
Successive political crisis have prevented the construction of a modern
state, able to protect the long-term interests of the nation – hence the
lack of effective plans for land use and planning regulations. Political
crisis, which most often happen due to the greed of some groups to control
the economy to their sole benefit – also prevented the development of a
modern, competitive, and internationally integrated economy that would also
be able to meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Haiti. As they
are getting poorer, living with an average income of less than 1 U.S. dollar
a day, they remain confided within the cities and cannot afford to build
according to the necessary standards and safety rules.
The NGOs are filling the space left vacant by the Haitian administration:
In June 2010, we were officially more than 2,000,000 people living in tents
in the camps. And according to some estimates, almost as many people where
living in courtyards or on their friends? properties. Thanks to
international solidarity, no great famine or epidemic was to be reported.
Most of the victims were first given plastic sheets and tents, drinking
water and food. A ?cash for work? movement had been initiated, which allowed
some families to earn a little income.
According to official statistics, the epidemic of cholera has claimed more
than 5,000 victims, and other than some localized cases, it seems to be
currently under control. For this, we must again thank the international
More recently, semi-permanent shelters started to appear. All this was
mainly due to the work of a multitude of NGOs, filling the space left vacant
by the public administration, which has failed to coordinate and work with
all outside assistance.
One could blame these organizations on many points: the inexperience of
some, the youth of the majority of their expatriates, their obsession for
security, their ignorance regarding the Haitian reality and its very
different way of life, especially for the International Organizations (IO)
and for some of the main NGOs. And although we must give them credit for the
immediate help provided to the victims, we must also note that their great
number has also created new difficulties to our economy: a long-term
deconstruction of the job market by high wages, the rise of prices
(particularly house rents), and unfair competition with local businesses and
so on. At the end of the day, their work appears to be unsupervised, which
causes the inefficiency of the programs in a global solution, the micro,
isolated and non-perennial character of their interventions, many useless
similar projects, etc.
The impotence and the negligence of the public administration:
The Public administration, like the President of the Republic himself, had
adopted a rather passive attitude. Nothing was planned, no agenda was
established, no stocks were to be found, and furthermore, they took a long
time to react, and then focused their attention on the international help.
The measures proposed so far, as the re-development of downtown
Port-au-Prince and the few homes in Bel-Air are nothing but shameless offers
thrown at the face of families in dire need of real help. And in regarding
the international help: billions have been promised. Contracts have been
signed; meetings are scheduled? yet so far, nothing has happened. Even the
removal of the rubbles in the capital has not really started. The public
administration could still invite companies specializing in recycling and
valorization of spoil.
We fear that the reconstruction will be, at best, identical to what it
previously was. The Haitian government and some NGOs take pride in the fact
that public squares are gradually emptied and cleaned out. Yet, in order to
achieve this, they remove any assistance – water supply, health services,
sanitation – regardless of the risks involved. As the rainy season
approaches, they harass and ultimately take advantage of the families?
misfortune to negotiate their departure in exchange of a small payment.
About 30,000 to 50,000 people has found refuge on private lands in
Port-au-Prince. They are evicted or constantly threatened to be.
Far from any controversy over the numbers released, we believe that the
first responsibility of the government is not to rehabilitate public
squares, but to guarantee all Haitian families decent, safe and proper
homes. Before the earthquake, the housing shortage in Haiti, not counting
the slums and the shanty towns, was estimated at over 200,000. It is
believed that the earthquake also destroyed 200,000 additional homes. The
internal migration is still very strong, and the growth of the population
far exceeds any prediction. Yet so far, we have not heard about any housing
plan answering the needs of the population. Where are the people removed
from public areas supposed to go?
The population is being left to itself.
Some examples to be followed?
Corail-Cesselesse, an area declared of public utility, thought to relocate
the victims at the northern exit of Port-au-Prince, was initially invaded by
all kinds of people coming from all over the country. The State, supported
by NGOs and IOs, had difficulties to temporary shelter the victims from the
Downtown area of Port-au-Prince. Only a small percentage of the population,
which had sought refuge on the golf course of P?tion-Ville, could use the
temporary shelters. Today, this area is divided into 4 parts.
Corail, the ?model zone?, has 6 sub-sectors, and shelters a population of
approximately 30,000 people. The streets are well traced, the houses
aligned, the toilets and showers well maintained with regular water supply.
That is, until now. After the ache caused by the earthquake and last year?s
rainy season, families have enjoyed these small houses of 12 to 15 square
meters each, built with thick plywood walls on concrete ground, and
featuring a 2×4 wooden frame. This is where they bravely try to rebuild
their lives. They plant vegetables, trees, corn, arrange the small gallery
as a shop, etc. The police station is co-managed by the National police
force of Haiti and by the UNPOL; and aside from some rare serious incidents,
only marital conflicts are reported, mostly based on questions of ownership
on the small houses.
Next to Corail are other camps, called by their residents ‘Canaan’
and ‘Jerusalem’, although they have a lot more in common with the Far West than
with the Holy Land. The majority of their residents do not come from
emergency camps. Armed gangs have taken over these sites and built, sold,
leased housings in concrete without any sort of standard. Large sums of
money have been invested. Artesian wells have even been drilled: it is the
beginning of ?the hyper-slumming?. The NGOs are not welcomed there. The
estimated population at the end of March 2011 was 40,000 to 60,000 people.
A little further, directly under the foot-hills of the mountain, and besides
a modern project of allotment of the National Office of Insurances and
Retirements (ONA), is the Camp called ONA. But the earthquake victims do not
like to be sheltered there, mainly because the small houses are considered
unlivable because of heat constraints. The estimated population there at the
end of March was 30,000 people.
It is time to think about permanent housing for these people, especially
now that the threat of a new earthquake is more real than ever.
Ha?ti being located on two tectonic plates, the probability of earthquakes
followed by tsunamis is very high, like in 1842 when the population of
Cap-Ha?tien was decimated. The earthquake of January 12 has in fact revealed
the existence of a new rift. The Enriquillo rift still threatens the
southern part of Ha?ti as well as the metropolitan zone, with its high
population density (approximately 15,000 h/km ?). Local specialists have
announced that the northern rift, which covers the whole north of the
country up to the town of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, is now active.
We must be concerned and quickly envision a change in the pattern of land
repartition by the Haitian people.
Housing, the number one priority:
We at MOSOSAH think that until the Haitian government finally wakes up,
civilians need to organize themselves more efficiently, in order to make an
effective contribution to the national reconstruction. We can no longer
ignore the basic needs of hundreds of thousands of homeless families, and we
must take into account all the constraints encountered by the population.
National security and even the nation?s very survival depend on it.
The access to proper housing must become the number one priority for the
Haitian nation, and it can also contribute to:
1) Stimulate the economy
2) Create tens of thousands of jobs
3) Greatly heighten national security
4) Considerably improve the health condition of the population
5) Improve the quality of education
6) Bring a better ruling of the country
7) Promote social inclusion
8) Promote a system based on social justice and reconciliation
9) Improve the existing urbanism
10) Strengthen democratic practices, and so on.
A plan for the next 15 years:
We advocate the construction of about 400 modern villages across the
country, each welcoming 2,000 families, and featuring all the necessary
equipment (schools, health center, public market, cemetery, bus station,
shopping mall, church, areas for sports and leisure, etc.), and offering the
safety and resources to feed its inhabitants. Our aim is to create 800,000
homes, filling the current need of approximately 400,000 residences, and
ready to face the increase of the Haitian population which, according to
projections of the Haitian Institute of statistics and data processing
(IHSI), will consist of 12,557,000 inhabitants by 2025.
We do not exclude the development of villages or places already existing, or
the re-development of some neighborhoods. But before this happens, it is
necessary to rethink the spaces, widen the access roads, create proper
pavements, decrease the ground surface of current habitats, create green
areas used for sports and recreation, and for each house or building, fit
out an emergency exit that?s accessible to firemen, ambulances and other
help services in the event of a catastrophe, etc.
Such a well thought and detailed housing plan – with proper calls-to-bidders
for services and supplies, the use of local materials, and proper training
of the inhabitants – can decrease by half the average price per square
These villages will be functional, clean, and pleasant, adapted to our
lifestyles, and will meet the standards of hygiene, safety, respect of the
environment, economics, etc.
The families who currently have nothing of their own will be given a piece
of land, a building plan and funds, in order to start over and rehabilitate
themselves as proper social and economic citizen of their country.
500 of such locations in each of these villages can be reserved for the
victims of the events of January 12. These houses will be built by their
owners, under proper supervision.
It will therefore be possible to decently reintegrate 200,000 families (1
million people) as social and economic entities.
A support plan (based on the profile of the inhabitants and the potential of
its environment) will be created for each village. This plan?s economical
landslide is to create many jobs in order to meet the people?s needs, so
they won?t feel the urge to return to their old and hazardous living spaces.
The 600,000 remaining residential sites will be used for the families of
national executives; families who have a sufficient income, newlyweds, new
immigrants, young professional, etc. We also support the creation of housing
co-operatives for private sector executives, professionals and civil
We need to think together in order to make these actions a reality. What are
the mandatory factors? How can we finance it? This plan needs a proper
Mososah needs your input in order to handle this noble mission. We still
need your support to convince governments, the international community and
the Haitian people as a whole, that this housing plan is the only and safest
way out of the crisis we are facing.
Our Movement needs your participation, your support to permanently change
the course and the history of Haiti. Join us!
We can only make it together. Yes, another Haiti is possible!