Archive for Saturday, February 20, 2010

Haiti P.M.: Government to take land for camps

February 20, 2010

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A woman left homeless by last month’s earthquake stands Friday next to her makeshift home on a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the Haitian government will appropriate privately held land to build temporary camps for earthquake victims.

A woman left homeless by last month’s earthquake stands Friday next to her makeshift home on a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the Haitian government will appropriate privately held land to build temporary camps for earthquake victims.

2010 Haiti Earthquake

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, causing widespread devastation in Haiti's capital and throughout the country.

— Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says the Haitian government will appropriate land to build temporary camps for earthquake victims. The decision, announced in an interview with The Associated Press, is potentially explosive in a country where a small elite owns most of the land in and around the capital.

That elite, a traditionally corrupting force in Haitian politics, has the power to bring down the government.

The government owns some land but not enough, Bellerive said in an interview Thursday, meaning he has no choice but to take over private terrain.

He would not say how much land will be appropriated.

A report posted at the Web site of the International Organization for Migration on Friday said a minimum of 1,112 acres of flat, nonfloodplain land is needed to settle 100,000 displaced people and Haiti’s government has identified only 47 acres.

The Jan. 12 quake left 1.2 million homeless, roughly half of them in Port-au-Prince, meaning the government would need to find a total of at least 6,672 acres for quake survivors in the capital, where about a third of Haiti’s nearly 10 million people are concentrated along with the government and almost all industry.

Bernard Fils-Aime, a businessman, property owner and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, said he was not aware of anyone in the business community being approached by the government about land. He said the issue would need to be treated cautiously.

“Land is one of our very scarce resources and an issue that has underlined many political conflicts in Haiti since independence,” Fils-Aime said. He said he was sure the issue could be negotiated amicably but warned: “You don’t want to create more conflict.”

Aid agencies have criticized the government for dragging its feet on the thorny land issue as relief agencies work against the clock to find temporary settlements for the homeless before the spring rainy season.

Human Rights Watch said Friday that “there is little evidence that meaningful efforts have been made to negotiate the land acquisition and secure proper land titles. It is essential that this be given priority” and that any appropriations “be done in a non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory manner.”

The relief agency Oxfam International warned last week that “The temporary camps where people have congregated are fast becoming overcrowded slums.”

“The government ... needs to clarify whether there is government land available or if it needs to confiscate private land instead. These decisions need to be taken quickly.”

The Haitian government has seemed to operate on a slower timetable. On Friday, the economist leading a government emergency commission on shelter held a news conference, saying government panels will make decisions in three to four weeks, and that the homes will be built in five or six months.

In the meantime, Charles Clermont said, people in the private sector have offered to build 20,000 to 30,000 temporary homes on private land and, presumably, sell them to the government.

Impromptu camps have sprung up on every bit of available land — school and university grounds, public gardens, a golf course, the central Champ de Mars plaza or simply on sidewalks. But the camps, many made of little more than bed sheets propped up by sticks, have little sanitation, and early sporadic downpours already are adding to the misery of their residents.

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