Six months after the earthquake devastated Haiti on January 12, more than one million survivors continue to live in appalling conditions, with inadequate sanitation, limited access to services and food shortages, say the Jesuits who are working to provide humanitarian assistance.
Conditions in many of the nearly 1,400 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the capital, Port-au-Prince, are extremely critical. The conditions at the largest Jesuit Refugee Services’ (JRS) camp, Automeca, with a population of 12,000, are typical. Here, residents continue to live in shacks held up by rags and poles. There are no schools or electricity, sanitation is poor and the water barely drinkable. When heavy rain falls, garbage rushes through the camp.
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. 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 by providing emergency assistance, psychosocial support, and training to community leaders to manage camps and civil society organizations.
“Camp management and aid delivery structures should always include consultation and cooperation with the displaced people who are swiftly forming their own organizations to advocate for their own particular needs,” said JRS/USA Director Jesuit Father Kenneth J. Gavin. “More attention must be placed on supporting the food and relief needs for IDP recipient communities and people not living in camps so that moving to a camp is not the only way for people to receive minimal food, water, and livelihood assistance.”
At a meeting with JRS – Haiti on June 20, seven IDP camp leaders highlighted numerous concerns, including the lack of security, particularly in camps that don’t have electricity and lighting at night, which pose a particular threat to women and children.
The situation in unofficial camps is even worse. Throughout the city, unofficial camp residents receive little or no care from large aid organizations 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. ,” said JRS – Haiti Director Jesuit Father Wismith Lazard. “The government needs to use its authority to protect camp residents from this kind of harassment, and put more effort into identifying suitable shelter.”
In the video below, Frs. Lazard and Kawas Francois, president of the Jesuit Interprovincial Committee for the Reconstruction of Haiti, discuss the conditions in the camps in Haiti and the plans to open 17 Jesuit Fe y Alegria (Hope & Joy) schools in the next year in Haiti.