Our Perspectives

Finding durable solutions for urban settings in Haiti


A woman standing next to her door. The government of Haiti and its people have made extraordinary efforts to recover from their traumatic experience. Photo: UNDP in Haiti.

For those who arrived in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the images of destruction in the capital city will be probably remain in our minds forever. They are in mine: at least 200,000 people dead and over a million displaced, thousands of buildings collapsed, houses damaged everywhere, economies disrupted, basic services interrupted, and tents and camps mushrooming in every small plaza or area where rubble had barely been removed.

The earthquake took place in a very specific context, aggravated by pre-existing conditions:  lack of adequate housing, land tenure issues, and disorganized rural-urban migration patterns.

Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes for durable solutions in urban settings. One time initiatives may be effective – such as emptying the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps - but affected families need sustainable solutions. Affordable housing, basic services and income generating activities are some of the key components of any programme promoting the return from IDP camps.

The government of Haiti and its people, men and women, have made extraordinary efforts to recover from such a traumatic experience. From the 1.5 million displaced after the earthquake, only 80,000 remain.  The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose from $1,548 to $1,602 per capita between 2009 and 2012, according to the Haiti MDG report.  Infant mortality (MDG 4) decreased by 44 percent since 1990, faster than the global average. Moreover, nearly 65 percent of households have improved access to water, compared to only 36.5 percent in 1995.

But there is still a long way to go, in both rural and urban areas. The way forward— in terms of durable solutions to displacement in urban settings—is to consider the development and implementation of urban planning policies. This also means hazard maps, investing in disaster risk reduction measures, local development plans and community infrastructure. Job creation is crucial too, given that 57 percent of youth in Haiti’s metropolitan areas are unemployed.

We think this is doable, working hand-in-hand with the Government of Haiti, its people, and the support of key development partners such as the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, Canada, USAID, EU, Korea and others. In 2011, the Government adopted the 16/6 initiative suggested by the UN and coupled the closure of camps with sustainable return solutions including adequate housing, basic services, employment and infrastructure in the 16 neighborhoods identified as the localities of origin of the displaced population. This integrated approach helped avoid shortcuts and provided sustainable long term solutions.

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