Supporting Solutions to Urban Displacement in Haiti

  • Posted on: 7 February 2014
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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The Brookings Institution and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently released a report analyzing solutions for those who remain displaced in Port-au-Prince.  A key message is that solutions involve more than just closing camps.  Solutions happen over the long-term and require the participation of governments, humanitarians,  development agencies and the displaced.  The executive summary is below and you can read the full report here.  


The earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 sparked a massive displacement crisis in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding metropolitan area, home to an estimated 2.8 million residents at the time. At the peak of the crisis, over 1,500 camps sheltering 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) were scattered across Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions. In addition, thousands of IDPs sought shelter with friends and family. Four years later, approximately 147,000 IDPs remain in 271 camps. While these declines are dramatic, it is difficult to determine the extent to which those uprooted by the earthquake have been able to access truly durable solutions to their displacement, and what should be done to support solutions for those who are still displaced. In a deeply impoverished, urban, post-disaster situation, where vulnerability to future disasters remains high, the very meaning of the concept of “durable solutions” has been challenging to understand and to implement. However, it is clear that the sustainable resolution of displacement is essential to strengthening resilience, and ensuring that all Haitians can benefit equitably from development and enjoy their full range of human rights.

Accordingly, this study examines the question of durable solutions to displacement in Port-au-Prince, recognizing that the challenges faced in Haiti may be a source of insight for responses to other urban, post-disaster displacement crises—which are expected to become more common in the future. The study draws on the results of focus groups in camps and communities, site visits, and in-depth interviews with government officials, donors, local and international NGO representatives, and the staff of international organizations, as well as a survey of 2,576 households (outside camps) in Port-au-Prince. 49.5% of respondent households indicated that they had to leave their homes because of the earthquake; 50.5% indicated that they were not displaced by the disaster. Of those who were displaced in 2010, 74% continue to identify themselves as displaced, even though they were not currently resident in a camp, underscoring that displacement is not limited to camp settings, and the long-term nature of the challenge of rebuilding “home” in the aftermath of disaster.

The main point of reference for this study is the 2010 Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework on Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons (IASC Framework), which lays out rights-based principles and criteria to inform efforts to support durable solutions for IDPs the world over, including those uprooted by natural disasters. The Framework indicates that durable solutions (whether return, local integration or settlement elsewhere in the country) are achieved when IDPs “no longer have any specific assistance and protection needs that are linked to their displacement and can enjoy their human rights without discrimination on account of their displacement.” Following the human rights-based approach of the IASC Framework, this study identifies specific challenges and obstacles to the pursuit of durable solutions for IDPs in Port-au-Prince, and makes recommendations on the way forward. It also reflects on the broader challenge of effectively applying the IASC Framework in impoverished, post-disaster urban contexts.

Achieving durable solutions to internal displacement is about more than closing camps. The sustainable resolution of displacement is a long-term process requiring close cooperation between governments and a range of development and humanitarian actors, supporting the solutions IDPs themselves take the lead in crafting. In Port-au-Prince, displacement was associated with prior high levels of impoverishment and vulnerability. IDPs and other members of the urban poor population continue to face many similar challenges; indeed, many stakeholders assume that there are no significant differences between these groups. However, on average, those who were displaced still hold a significantly more vulnerable position for a variety of reasons. Extensive physical destruction, the massive nature of the displacement crisis, and the limited accessibility of urban land have hindered durable solutions. Forced evictions have further compromised many IDPs’ ability to find a place to settle, and to create a more stable life in the aftermath of the earthquake. Many of the socio-economic factors underlying exposure to displacement in the first place are, not surprisingly, factors that also inhibit the durable resolution of displacement. These challenges have put certain IDPs at high risk of recurrent patterns of forced eviction, homelessness, disaster-related displacement, and extreme poverty.

While very few IDPs perceive themselves to be explicitly discriminated against on the basis of their displacement, the particularly significant challenges that continue to face households uprooted by the earthquake, even outside of camps, are reflected in the following findings:

1) General wellbeing: 60.9% of surveyed households displaced by the earthquake report that their overall living conditions have worsened since the earthquake, compared to 38.9% of households who did not have to leave their homes. 67% of displaced households indicate that they currently lack the means to provide for their basic needs, compared to 43% of non-displaced households;

2) Insecurity: 19.8% of respondents from displaced households do not feel safe in their current places of residence, compared to 13.9% of respondents from non-displaced households. A significant relationship exists between displacement and reduced access to police and security services, with 31.4% of displaced households indicating that they currently lack access to these services, compared to 22.8% of non-displaced households. A vast majority feel that trust amongst neighbors has declined since the earthquake (97.7% of displaced households, 96.8% of non-displaced households).

3) Access to essential services: Displaced households registered the following percentage drops in access to services since the earthquake: water (17% drop), latrines (8.6% drop), and health care (4.1% drop).1 Loss of access was experienced to a lesser extent by non-displaced households, who reported the following percentage decreases: water (6.0% drop), latrines (3.4% drop), and health care (0.8% drop).  This means, for example, that while 58% of IDP households reported that they had access to water prior to the earthquake, only 41% reported they have access now, registering a 17% drop in access.

4) Housing: Displaced households were twice as likely as non-displaced households to experience a decline in their housing situation, with 16.7% of displaced households indicating that their current situation is worse, compared to 8% of non-displaced households. Even before the earthquake, families who ended up being displaced typically faced worse housing conditions than those who did not have to leave their homes when the disaster struck.

Uniform approaches to assist IDPs to leave camps require strategic reflection and revision. More tailored approaches can help ensure that specific needs and vulnerabilities of IDPs are taken into account, and maximize contributions to the durable resolution of displacement. In particular, effective support for durable solutions to displacement requires development interventions at the community level that are sensitive to the particular challenges facing IDPs, at the same time as they benefit the broader community. This process is promisingly in motion, as government, humanitarian and development actors are currently attempting to broaden settlement possibilities for IDPs and provide more integrated support from humanitarian and development actors for the different elements of durable solutions to displacement.

In addressing some of the challenges displacement-affected households and communities face outside of camps, this report underscores the need to more decisively incorporate displacement into development and reconstruction efforts from the early stages of disaster response.  As it stands, the needs of IDPs living outside of camps are often overlooked, but this population could benefit substantially from strategic, targeted interventions to improve household resilience and economic security, which in many cases has been considerably weakened through the loss of home and household assets. Improved and sustained monitoring and follow-up interventions, tailored according to durable solutions criteria, would greatly enhance national and international actors’ ability to navigate difficulties and target those most in need.

Support for durable solutions must be inclusive – that is, the durable solutions needs of uprooted populations in lower-income neighborhoods and in new, informal settlements must not be neglected. The assumptions and risk aversion that have deterred investments in support of durable solutions for these populations will need to be reconsidered and recalibrated, ensuring that interventions in support of solutions are appropriately attuned to particular needs, and to the shared challenges facing displaced households and other members of the urban poor population.  There is a particular need for strengthened advocacy and political engagement at all levels in order to unlock the structural barriers to durable solutions. With its focus on the progressive attainment of human rights and cooperation between humanitarian and development actors, the IASC Framework can helpfully inform this process. However, this depends on raising awareness of this tool, and how it may be implemented, particularly in impoverished, urban, post-disaster scenarios such as Port-au-Prince. Other recommendations include:

1) Strengthen the application of the IASC Framework in post-disaster and urban situations through: (i) the development of an IASC guidance note on durable solutions in post-disaster, urban contexts, addressing the relationship between durable solutions and issues including urban planning, rental markets, disaster risk reduction, and public space; and (ii) increased training on durable solutions for government officials, national and international development and humanitarian aid workers, and donors.

2) Recognizing that displacement is not simply a humanitarian issue but an important development challenge, integrate displacement and durable solutions into relevant plans and policies at the local, national and international levels, including urban, housing, and development plans. Training and other forms of support may be necessary to achieve this goal.

3) Enhance cross-sectoral support for durable solutions, linking interventions such as rental subsidy cash grants to initiatives tailored to support the sustainable resolution of displacement, including livelihoods programs, and programs to increase access to documentation, micro-credit and financial services in displacement-affected communities.

4) Increase support for and engagement of local actors whose contributions are essential to a sustained response to the causes and consequences of displacement.

5)  Promote alternative and differentiated support for IDPs remaining in camps, including regularization and integration where relevant.

6) Support the safe expansion of the rental market, and the construction of new housing units, including through social housing programs, facilitation of private credit for reconstruction, subsidies and technical instruction for self-construction, and “sites and services” approaches that increase tenure security and the affordability of housing, and provide essential services to IDPs who may remain in the longer term in the areas where they sought shelter.

7) Invest in disaster risk reduction efforts as key elements of durable solutions.

8) Strengthen the protection focus of durable solutions support, including through more concerted and sustained advocacy on illegal evictions from camps and communities, and training for police forces on evictions standards.

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