Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Myths are created for a reason. The one that Haitians are living better in the IDP camps, than they did before the earthquake is a beauty. This myth is mostly put out by American politicians and some relief workers. Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves. Maybe they don't want us to think about the struggles of the Haitian people too much. Maybe they just want to make us believe what good people we are for helping these poor suffering people. I think it helps justify hundreds of years of Western imperialism.

What do you think is behind this myth?

The following is from the Institute for Justice in Haiti.

(I apologize for all the spacing issues in the article below.  I have no idea what the cause was, but I tried to correct as many as I could find.  But I didn't get to them all)

“Haitians in IDP Camps are living better now than before the earthquake? Are you kidding me?”

Update from Nicole Phillips, IJDH Staff Attorney currently working in Haiti

I find it difficult to write about Haiti when in Haiti because the experience is over­whelming.  I spend my days there try ing to make some thing happen for people strug gling to survive day after day.  People all around me are los ing hope that their coun try and their lives will ever get better — from our staff at BAI who lost fam ily mem bers, to vic tims of rape who remain in the same camp as their rapists, to fam i lies with out any income strug gling to feed their children.
Walk ing or dri ving around Port au Prince you see families liv ing in home less encamp ments every where you go.  (1,342 inter nal dis place ment (IDP) camps in the Port au Prince area was the offi cial count in June)  It’s what I imagine refugee camps to be like in armed conflict zones like Sudan or Rwanda.  I’m told that those camps had refugee organizations living with the survivors.  In Haiti, most camp communities are on their own to scrounge for food, shel ter and other basic services.

Chil dren at Camp Palais de L’Art
Every poor Haitian has had their life torn upside down by the earth quake.   Every story of desperation I hear crushes me.  One young man waited all day at our office to speak with me.  I had never met him before, but some one told him that I was there and may be able to help.  He wanted me to help his com mu nity in Grand Ravine who had lost every thing and asked for build ing mate ri als, food, clothes, any thing?  We spoke for about 45 minutes as he told me how hard it is to grow up in Haiti right now.  He graduated from col lege at 20 years old with excellent grades and wants to be a doc­tor.  He wondered if I could sponsor his visa to study in the U.S., or pay for his school in Haiti, or just find him work, any work.  I hated saying no to him.  I spoke with dozens of young, educated women and men who may never have the opportunity to realize their potential.
Fam i lies are suf fer ing in the IDP camps we visited.

There is a myth out there, prop a gated by American politicians and relief work ers in Haiti, that Haitians are living bet ter in IDP camps now than they were living before the earth quake.  These same peo ple clar ify that the role of disaster relief is not to raise the standard of living of poor people.

Camp Acra Sud
I men tioned this myth to a group of law stu dents from the University of San Fran­cisco, School of Law who came with me to Haiti to do a survey on conditions in IDP camps.  We were debrief ing last night from our trip and strategizing on how to expose the human rights violations we witnessed.  The students all laughed as if it were a joke.  People we interviewed in the sur vey were employed before the earth quake and pro vided for their families.  Now their children are sleep ing on mud soaked with raw sewage from the last rain storm.   Conditions are not bet ter than before the earth quake, in fact, they couldn’t get any worse.
We visited 6 IDP camps around Port au Prince (I visited about a dozen camps total).  The con di tions in all of them were unbear able by any human being’s standard.  Tents and tarps that finally reached Haiti in Feb ru ary and March are now falling apart from con tin u ous use.  Families are living and sleep ing exposed to the elements, with out protection from rain, wind, mal nu tri tion, or dis ease.  One young man living in Camp Acra Sud invited us into his tent to meet his mother.   He told me that he lost his job and his home after the earth quake.  He said that his family could not afford to eat and were desperate.

Mother and Son at Acra Sud
Most camps we saw did have access to non-potable water, mostly sup plied by the Red Cross or Doctors with out Borders.  Most also had a few portable toilets and show ers (about 1 toi let for every 50–100 people).  The toi ets were changed 1–2 times a month and smelled so pun gent that it is hard to be within 100 feet of them.  People eat and sleep around them.  There is also lit tle to no secu rity or light ing in the camps we saw, mak ing peo ple vul­nerable to theft and rape.
One camp I visited, Bar ban court II, had a cesspool the diam e ter of a large swim ming pool.  The water is nor mally a foot high but when it rains the water rises to 3 feet and creeps into people’s tents.  The smelly, stag nant water was bub bling before us.  (Is that mos quito larva? I asked myself)  Space is so lim ited in the camp that tents are pitched right next to the cesspool.  It’s a health dis as ter wait ing to happen.

I worry that Americans and the rest of the international community think that Haitians in IDP camps are living better now than before the earth quake.  I worry about how this myth may affect aid efforts.   But I also feel that the myth fails to appreciate Haitians’ amazing day-to-day survival in uninhabit­able conditions.

For more information on camp conditions, see Neglect in the Encamp­ments: Haiti’s Second-Wave Humanitarian Disaster (, a report released in March.  We will be releasing a follow-up report next month based on our surveys in 6IDP camps.

No comments: