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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Incremental Change for Haiti

When I got home last night, someone asked me if Haiti was better now. It was a hard question to answer. There are always new problems popping up, even if some progress has been made in addressing older problems. In some ways it's better, in others it's worse, and some things are exactly the same--like the presidential palace caved and collapsed, just like it was when I saw it in in March 2010.

It is difficult to think as I sit at my kitchen table in my apartment back in New York that just yesterday I was in Port au Prince. The only thing that really remains the same between my week there and my life back here is that I still took my malaria pill this morning. As I sip my coffee, I reflect on what a productive experience the entire trip was. This is not because we solved Haiti's problems in six days. That wasn't the point. What we did do was move closer to an understanding of what steps need to be taken from the perspective of different ministries of government, UN orgs, grassroots NGOs, and most importantly from the perspective of the people surviving in the IDP (internally displaced person) tent cities. These institutional players must coordinate their efforts instead of working against each other--wasting limited money, time, energy for these institutional actors and costing lives in the camps.

We engaged representatives of these institutions in our interviews, pressing them in the questions to find out: what they outlined their role in the camps to be, why they were not acting to stop the forced evictions, whether they were implicitly facilitating the forced evictions, and what they felt would be the right solution to the problem. Sometimes mayors were forcing IDPs out of camps on public land and other times the same threatening of and actually enforcing a forcible removal concerned private land, in many cases involving the Catholic church as the private landowner.

We left Haiti, and forced evictions are of course still happening. They continue to happen, despite the Inter American Commission on Human Rights granting a petition for precautionary measures declaring a moratorium on forced evictions. Individuals are forced to live fear of the day when the incessant verbal threats of violent and forcible removal will be realized. We were however encouraged by the story told by one of the ministries that the individual leaders from an IDP camp brought forward a copy of this petition when the landowner tried to evict them. The presentation of the petition lead to opening a negotiation between the landowner facilitated by the ministry and other international actors. IDP camp leadership asserted their rights and somebody listened. Small scale encouragement shows that the work can make a change. It is just that this change needs to happen in not just one case, but every case.

What we can do, is collect our documented findings and move closer toward working to develop solutions and submit recommendations to suggest more coordination and institutional changes based on what each actor's mandate actually is. We can work to find a better solution to minimize the problems and decrease the number of cases of forcible eviction. We can make progress in addressing this old problem, while acknowledging that new problems will surface in the future.

Haiti's problems will not be solved over night, but they will be bit by bit.

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