By Salih Booker
Executive Director of the Center On Housing Rights and Evictions
COHRE expresses its deepest condolences to those in Haiti and around the world who lost family and friends as a result of the recent earthquake. We also express our solidarity with the survivors left behind, who are now struggling to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
The earthquake that struck Haiti this month was a tragedy for the Haitian people – a tragedy that continues to this day, with more than 100,000 dead, and more than a million left homeless.
It is a tragedy made worse by impoverishment caused by two centuries of often violent plunder and exploitation of Haiti’s riches and people by foreigners and many of Haiti’s corrupt rulers.
It is estimated that some 500,000 are living in makeshift settlements throughout Port-au-Prince and other affected areas, with limited access to water and sanitation.
The Haitian people have reacted with remarkable strength, compassion and resilience in the face of this disaster. But they will require a long-term commitment from the international community to help them rebuild their lives and their country in a way that effectively addresses their needs – especially the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Haiti was beset with problems before the earthquake struck. The poorest communities, comprising people numbering in their millions, lived without access to adequate shelter or access to water and sanitation.
This must not be be replicated by the reconstruction effort.
COHRE believes that relief and reconstruction efforts must prioritise creating a Haiti that fulfils the rights of all its citizens to housing, food, education and access to clean water and sanitation.
While there is an urgent need for emergency shelter, permanent shelters and the re-establishment of people’s livelihoods must start as soon as possible, including during the relief phase. It is critical for these approaches to ensure that women are also able to participate in and benefit from the reconstruction effort on an equal basis, so that they too can rebuild their lives and communities.
In all situations of natural disaster and displacement such as this, which inevitably result in the mass internal displacement of communities and individuals, it is also important to look ahead beyond the immediate relief effort. Haiti’s future will be best secured if authorities in Haiti and the international community ensure ongoing compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as well as the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (“The Pinheiro Principles”).
In short, we need to build back better – and those involved in the rebuilding need to listen to the Haitians themselves when they define what they need. The Haitian people are in the best position to decide how they want their country reconstructed and what is necessary for them to be able to rebuild their lives.
Issues regarding access to land, the provision of adequate housing for the homeless and security of tenure must be dealt with transparently, in full accordance with international human rights standards, and with full community consultation and participation, if the rebuilding effort is to be successful in the long-term.
The Haitian people people deserve no less.
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