First Wave of Families Leaves Haiti's Champ de Mars with IOM Help

IOM this week helped a first wave of families move permanently from the shelters and tents they have lived in for the past two years, directly in front of Haiti's ruined National Palace.

In all, one hundred and seventy six families were relocated to homes they have chosen, with each family receiving a year in advance rental subsidy under a programme devised and led by the government of Haiti and financed by Canada.

Historic Champ de Mars Plaza, in the heart of the capital Port-au-Prince, has been home to a community of 4,600 desperately poor families who have lived since the earthquake in miserable, overcrowded conditions. Women in particular have been prone to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

The aim of the relocation programme is to enable as many of these earthquake displaced families as possible return to their original communities, under a framework agreement developed by the government of Haiti and the humanitarian community.

Some 126,000 families still remain in Haitian camps in deteriorating conditions and it will be at least two to five years before the neighbourhood regeneration approach has time to fully rebuild the neighbourhoods of return.

"A week before carnival comes directly through Champ de Mars, it is appropriate that these vulnerable families get an opportunity to start their lives anew and that our work to take care of them begins to take shape," said IOM Haiti Chief of Mission Luca Dall'Oglio.

The devastating earthquake of January 2010 left over 1.5 million people homeless and almost destroyed an already weak economy. It contributed to both an individual and a collective sense of loss, combined with guilt towards those who died, anxiety about the future, frustration and anger.

Protection is a major issue for those living in flimsy shelters and tents and Champ de Mars is a particular hot spot. IOM is mainstreaming protection issues to ensure that everyone involved in relocation, the displaced themselves, community leaders and those coming into direct contact with the displaced are aware of the seriousness of SGBV.

IOM has also provided psychosocial support for those living in camps in Haiti, including Champ de Mars. Operating in very trying circumstances, the mission's health team coordinates healthcare solutions wherever possible.

IOM began the move by ensuring that the most vulnerable families were prioritized and assisted in terms of their health needs. They included pregnant women, those with children less than 5 years old, the elderly, single heads of household, people living with disabilities and chronic medical illness such as TB or HIV.

In one case, it included a 19-year-old paraplegic woman who has lain on a mat in the camp for two years, dependent on her mother for help.  Bettyna's bright smile and lively demeanour as she was moved first to a wheelchair, to a bus and finally up to her new apartment, belied the hardships she has endured and the chronic pain she suffers constantly due to lack of medical attention.

The move from Champ de Mars is due to pick up tempo over the coming months, while parallel efforts are underway to rebuild quality housing and provide sustainable community and public health facilities in people's neighbourhoods of origin. This is particularly important in a country where unplanned slums have developed, and which is especially vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquake and flooding.

A unique part of the process involves engaging residents of neighbourhoods to participate in the reconstruction efforts through community platforms where plans are proposed and discussed. These community-elected leaders will be encouraged to help with urban planning and to identify rehabilitation priorities in ways that guarantee community participation.

As part of the reconstruction process, small suppliers of materials and construction services will also get support to make them more competitive and ensure the community supports their businesses. There will also be technical teams to assess damage to houses and where possible repair them. Owners of irreparably damaged houses will be helped to rebuild them, a move that will help restore the housing stock for those leaving the camps.

The closure of the camps in Haiti is a priority of the government and the entire humanitarian community. IOM has taken the lead in identifying sustainable solutions to help families living in camps to return to their priority areas of origin. IOM is also collaborating with UNOPS, ILO and UNDP, along with local and international humanitarian organizations, to rapidly respond to the government's requests in its relocation and reconstruction strategy.

For further information please contact:

Leonard Doyle
IOM Haiti
Tel: +509 3702 5066
E-mail: ldoyle@iom.int