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.


Many of the camps for Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake are growing again, even as the overall population of people displaced by the disaster continues to fall, according to a study released Monday. The International Organization for Migration, a Geneva-based humanitarian group backed by 155 governments, said on Monday that 78 of the 243 remaining camps saw numbers rise.
For example, Petionville, one of the districts that make up the hilly Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, experienced a minor uptick, from 8,451 people in December to 8,498 in March. The IOM reported that many people said they were forced to return because they couldn’t afford rents elsewhere after year-long subsidies ran out. The rent help had been backed by aid groups to help people move out of camps. Some people said they came to camps back to rejoin family members. Others said they merely switched camps. “This phenomenon, even though always present ... is lately becoming more visible,” the report said. Still the total population living in such encampments continued to decline. The new report said that number is now at 137,543 people, almost 9,000 fewer than reported in January. The IOM said it peaked at 1.5 million several months after the January 2010 quake.
Haitian officials say the number of camps, too, is falling. “A whole lot of camps that are registered are being cleared out right now,” said Clement Belizaire, a director at the government’s office for the construction of accommodation and public buildings. He said the need for people to return to camps would be reduced if foreign donors keep up support for rent subsidy problems. The makeshift settlements were once ubiquitous in Port-au-Prince, covering parks, soccer fields, parking lots and even median strips. But they have become less visible because of the rental subsidies, combined with land owners kicking people off their property. Still, the crudely constructed homes can be seen in alleyways and on the mountainsides that surround the capital region, a teeming metropolis with 10 million people. The IOM said it doesn’t know how many people displaced by the quake live outside the camps.

IOM last week inaugurated 45 houses in Carrefour-Feuilles, a poor neighbourhood in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince heavily affected by the 2010 earthquake. Funds for the project were provided by the Government of Haiti’s Bureau of Monetization of Development Aid Programs (BMPAD) and an NGO, Community Chest of Korea (CCK), in the scope of a project aimed at rebuilding earthquake-affected communities. In addition to the housing component, IOM carried out extensive community infrastructure rehabilitation, including drainage, footpaths, stairs, roads, public spaces and street solar lighting, to improve public hygiene and the safety of the community. Following land tenure validation by national authorities, residents of the target area who had their houses destroyed by the earthquake each received a two-storey house built on their land by IOM at no cost. As a condition they had to accept to host free of charge for two years an internally displaced family identified by IOM as among the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake. Marie Ange, a widow with five children who spent four years in a camp for internally displaced persons, is one of the beneficiaries who chose to be relocated into one of the newly built apartments. This housing solution will allow her not only to live in a safe and dignified environment, but also to focus her resources on the education of her children and to start a small business to be able to provide for her family. Haiti’s hurricane season began this month and some 30,000 households remain in Haiti’s camps in need of durable solutions.

The January 2010 Haiti earthquake killed many thousands and caused damage and losses estimated at US$7.8 billion, more than US$3 billion of which was in the housing sector alone. What might surprise those who have heard only anecdotal accounts of the shortcomings of the Haiti response is that some exemplary practices that emerged from that event have already been redeployed in other disaster responses.
First, the immediate shelter response was remarkable – 1.5 million displaced people had some form of shelter within 4-5 months. Good practices also emerged from the housing recovery process: conducting building habitability assessments even in informal neighborhoods, providing conditional cash transfers to urban renter families, using slum upgrading as a housing recovery strategy, and numerous instances of effective information management. Nevertheless, not all that took place was exemplary and organizations involved in Haiti recovery have subjected their own work to close scrutiny in the years since the earthquake. In 2014, the World Bank contributed to this collective stock-taking when it completed a unique analysis that involved crowd-sourcing among many who worked on Haiti recovery, to identify key risk reduction, shelter, and housing challenges and lessons learned
The World Bank, in collaboration with the International Federation of the Red Cross, UN Habitat, Habitat for Humanity International, and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, reviewed in depth the Haiti response, with a particular focus on the crucial transition from sheltering to rehousing the displaced population. The report (to be published by the World Bank in 2015) looks closely at how decisions made in the early emergency response period affected housing recovery.
The unexpected value of building assessment. The Bank and several other agencies supported the Government of Haiti’s decision to undertake an assessment of all buildings in the earthquake-affected zones, including all housing in informal neighborhoods, in an effort to prevent further death or injuries caused by unsafe buildings. In the first 6 months after the earthquake, 250,000 buildings were assessed for habitability. Over eighteen months, more than 400,000 buildings were assessed. The importance of this decision became clearer as time passed, as the data was used for unanticipated purposes such as to assess risk in neighborhoods and to estimate reconstruction costs. A lesson from this experience was not to assume a better assessment would follow in time, but to consider potential data uses upfront and to design the assessment accordingly.
The costs and benefits of T-shelter. A key decision was to construct more than 110,000 temporary wooden houses (known as T-shelters in Haiti). An estimated US$500 million were raised to support this strategy and many families were assisted. But T-shelters did little to reduce the population in the emblematic Haitian camps for internally displaced persons, since so many were renters with no land on which to situate a T-shelter. In fact, for most renter families, camps were the only place to receive a T-shelter. Of the 123 sites still occupied in September 2014, housing 23,000 families, approximately 20 percent include mostly T-shelters, according to the IOM.
The usefulness of conditional cash transfers. Programs to repair existing buildings were underfunded in the early months of recovery, as donors struggled with technical questions and scaling up. But the limitations of attrition and T-shelters as strategies for rehousing poor urban renters became increasingly obvious as the share of renters rose steadily in the camp population, which had otherwise declined to around 500,000 by mid-2012. This situation led to one of the real innovations of Haiti housing recovery – the rental subsidy program, in which the International Federation of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, numerous NGOs, the Bank, and other agencies joined forces. Agencies funded a rental support cash grant to help families leave camps by covering moving expenses and several months’ rent. Once this approach was standardized and reached scale, landlords responded with additional rental space, and the number of poor renters in camps significantly declined.
The challenge of recovery coordination. No analysis of Haiti recovery is complete without addressing two of the key problems in disaster recovery – institutional capacity and coordination. If by definition a disaster is an event that exceeds government’s capacity to manage, then coordination is what ensures that those who come to assist effectively fill those gaps. But finding the proper balance between solidarity and sovereignty, that is, providing assistance without usurping government’s prerogatives, is a critical challenge. In Haiti, tensions that arose between Government, the newly-created Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, and outside agencies including NGOs around these questions at times threatened the entire recovery process. The Cluster system and other mechanisms of the international humanitarian response and coordination architecture were duly deployed in Haiti even before the Post Disaster Needs Assessment was prepared. But of the 10,000 NGOs active after the earthquake (according to a Brookings Institution estimate), only a small fraction were registered with Government or participated in Cluster meetings. The forthcoming report examines these facts and asks how improved coordination might have made recovery more efficient and cost effective, and reconstruction safer, by requiring more specific measures to reduce vulnerability to earthquakes or other natural hazards.
What Haiti taught us all. Since the earthquake, the Government of Haiti has taken a number of steps to increase both the quantity and the safety of affordable housing. In particular, it created a coordinating body for housing and public building construction (Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics) that oversees donor and government interventions in the housing sector, and has developed the country’s first affordable housing policy and its first slum upgrading strategy. Internationally, the Haiti experience provided impetus to initiatives to standardize recovery coordination, such as the recent draft “Guide to Preparing Disaster Recovery Frameworks,” prepared by the Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, which have enormous potential to better define the rules for the planning, financing, and coordination of recovery, as has been so successfully done for humanitarian coordination over the last decade.
Thousands of Philippine citizens affected by Typhoon Haiyan have benefitted from lessons learned in Haiti, as disaster risk reduction became a leading principle of housing recovery and financial support to households’ self-recovery began immediately following the event. Ultimately, no recent disaster demonstrates unequivocally that the lessons of Haiti have yet been fully absorbed, but we can thank Haiti for what it taught us about how to work together more effectively to achieve resilient recovery. International agencies must continue to analyze critically and objectively their recovery programs and learn from them. But most importantly governments must learn these lessons and take them to heart, as should citizens, since they are the ultimate beneficiaries of well-run recovery programs.

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