Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

UN only plans to move 9,000 Haitians before rains

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) – The United Nations greatly reduced on Wednesday the number of Haiti quake survivors it intends to move before the rains come, saying 9,000 most at risk would be given incentives to relocate.

Until recently, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had been saying that 218,000 people living in so-called red sites around the capital Port-au-Prince would have to move.

But OCHA’s deputy head of mission Sarah Muscroft told AFP that surveys carried out two weeks ago had shown that actually only 37,200 people were at imminent risk from landslides or surface run-off.

“If engineering works can be done, that number can be reduced down to 9,000 who will simply have to move before the rains come,” she said.

“The international community has moved that many people many times over and it is actually a relatively simple exercise so long as you have somewhere to put them.”

Those being moved will have the option to move in with host families, move to another camp, or return home if that is viable. The last resort will be to relocate them to temporary sites being constructed outside the capital.

“These temporary options (sites) are what we are going to have to focus on in the next year and ones that are basically weather-proof through the rains,” said Muscroft.

Despite the squalor of the camps, many Haitian families are skeptical about leaving locations in Port-au-Prince when they are not assured of any long-term job prospects outside the capital.

“There is an incentive package that has been agreed that comprises three months of food, hygiene kit, a tarpaulin to help strengthen whatever structure that they’re building and also a cash incentive as well which is one months salary, a cash-for-work base salary,” said Muscroft.

Cash-for-work programs have been set up throughout the capital and other towns badly hit by the disaster, like Jacmel, to try and get people back to work and clear the debris from the streets.

Muscroft indicated the reason time was now tight was because the Haitian government wasted weeks lobbying with the unrealistic aim that the international community would buy the land needed for the new camp sites.

“In a normal environment we would prefer to have been doing this a month ago, the reason we were not able to do that was because we were waiting for government endorsement.”

Given that three weeks ago, the UN was talking about the need to relocate 218,000 people from 21 different camps, the move marks a significant scaling back with the rainy season due to start in earnest next month.

The 7.0 magnitude quake that struck Haiti on January 12 killed more than 220,000 people and left 1.3 million more homeless.

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