Lack of Housing Hampers Haiti Earthquake Recovery
Flying into Port-au-Prince on a recent day, Wendy Flick noticed changes to the landscape that gave her hope for the earthquake-ravaged city.
Ms. Flick, who runs the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s relief program in Haiti, saw more green spaces than she had remembered. That meant more rubble from the capital’s destroyed buildings had been cleared and some tent cities closed. And she saw new clusters of homes.
Two years after a 7.0-magnitude quake left 1.5 million Haitians homeless, aid workers like Ms. Flick cling to signs like that. But the numbers alone tell a grim story.
Roughly 519,000 people still live under tents in emergency camps that have dotted Port-au-Prince since the disaster. By the end of 2012, that number is expected to drop by only about half, according to a coalition of groups that coordinates shelter. Just 11,393 homes have been repaired and 3,206 permanent units constructed.
Housing has proved the trickiest challenge facing aid workers in Haiti, as they grapple with disputes over land ownership and where they can legally build. And now, with hundreds of thousands of people still homeless, money is starting to dry up. Only about a third of the money raised by aid groups remains.
Charities like Food for the Poor and Habitat for Humanity International, which specialize in housing, have spent all the cash they received. The American Red Cross and other large charities still have money, but they are struggling to find effective ways to spend it.
Most Haitians didn’t own land before the quake and have nowhere to rebuild. Squabbles over land titles have scuttled projects. Critics fault aid groups for focusing too much on transitional shelter and not enough on long-term solutions.
Over all, about two-thirds of the $1.7-billion raised in the United States and abroad by 47 nonprofits has been spent, according to a Chronicle survey. Fifteen of 53 groups have either run out of funds or have less than $200,000 left. In total, 60 aid groups and their international affiliates have raised $2.1-billion worldwide for Haiti’s earthquake victims, including $1.43-billion from Americans.
That is similar to the rate of spending after other disasters. But with so much work left undone, hopes of building Haiti “back better” seem increasingly out of reach.
Smaller building projects, and those in rural areas, have met with some success, but large-scale construction hasn’t happened.
The American Red Cross plans to put $187-million of the $486-million it raised toward housing. Mostly it is providing aid to other nonprofits; so far, it has committed $58.8-million to other charities to provide shelter. But while Red Cross money has given temporary shelter to 36,270 people, it has yet to build a single permanent home.