Red Cross builds shelters in Haitian capital
By Claire Doole in Port au Prince. Photos by Hose Himinez.
The makeshift camp in Cite Soleil, one of the poorest areas in Haiti’s devastated capital, Port au Prince, is a hive of activity.
A bulldozer maneuvers over the bumpy terrain, clearing garbage that has accumulated since L’Annexe de la Mairie, public land next to the Town Hall, became home for hundreds of families displaced in the January 12th quake. Men from the camp work alongside Red Cross trained carpenters and volunteers in constructing the first 300 small wood framed houses with corrugated iron roofs for the community.
“For the first time you can see hope in people’s eyes,” says Pascal Panosetti, shelter delegate and project manager for the International Federation of the Red Cross. “Even before the quake many people were living in very difficult conditions but now it is worse. They are living in tiny shacks that flood when the rains come. I shall be so happy to see them get a roof over their heads and a safe place to live.”
It is the first time that the Red Cross has begun to build these shelters in Port au Prince – Haiti’s overpopulated capital. Almost a third of the population, estimated at 8.4 million is squeezed into 38 square kilometers. Lack of space in this highly congested city has been a major obstacle in reconstruction.
After several months of negotiation, the Mayor of Cite Soleil agreed to let the Red Cross build shelters for 300 families for an initial period of 18 months. Another piece of land is also under negotiation for the remaining families.
In May, 300 families who wanted to leave the site were given shelter kits and tools to build shelters on the sites of their previous homes. Panosetti believes there may still be around another 120 families living on the site who own land and he is planning to contact them by SMS to find out if it’s possible to build a shelter on their land.
First public land secured
The project in L’Annexe de La Mairie is the first time that the Red Cross has secured public land for the construction of shelters.
The Canadian, Spanish and Dutch Red Cross societies are currently building homes outside the capital in Leogane, Jacmel and Petit Goave on the sites of people’s former homes where they have established land tenure rights.
“We are starting off with people who own or have inherited their land,” explains Celia Pastor, a lawyer working for the Spanish Red Cross. “But we are negotiating with the mayor of Leogane to make available land for those who rented or squatted before and whose houses were destroyed.”
After a slow start due to lack of space, land ownership issues and the massive task of removing rubble from the site of collapsed homes, momentum is gathering. The Haitian government has agreed to the construction of 800 shelters in La Piste, one of the biggest camps housing some 50,000 people in Port au Prince. The site has been cleared and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Canadian Red Cross teams are currently surveying the plot.
Back at L’Annexe de la Mairie, the first four shelters have been completed. Carpenter Emmanuel Charles has been on site for the past couple of weeks, working with the community and Haitian Red Cross volunteers.
“All of us are giving our best. We are Haitian and want to help other Haitians in these difficult times start to rebuild their lives.”