Fooling The Sun, Not Fooling The Rain

On Monday, November 24, the MCC U.S. Washington Office hosted a conference entitled “Fooling the Sun, Not Fooling the Rain: Housing and Shelter in Haiti 5 Years After the Earthquake.” The event was held at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, where MCC partnered with Church World Service to bring together Haitian activists, officials, and academics for dialogue around the current housing crisis in Haiti and possible solutions.  Four panels discussed a range of issues during the course of the day.  Ruth Keidel Clemens, MCC U.S. program director, provided opening remarks.

Dr. Robert Maguire of GWU’s Elliott School began by outlining the numerous problems with housing in Haiti.  More than 1.5 million people were rendered homeless by the January 2010 earthquake, which destroyed 20 percent of the houses in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and largest city.  More than 85,000 people are still living in displacement camps now, five years later, despite the work of a large number of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Haitian government.

The first panel featured two MCC partners, Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA (Force for Reflection and Action on the Cause of Housing) and Patrice Florvilus of Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP).  The panel discussed the problems that Haitians living in temporary housing face and repeatedly criticized the government for its role in these problems.  They pointed out that while these people face many challenges, the government has exacerbated their difficult lives by brutally evicting people from temporary housing camps.  After presenting several specific instances of these abuses, Mr. Florivus stated that this was rarely presented to the outside world by the government or the media.  He, along with many other panelists, also pointed out that the Haitian constitution recognizes the right of its people to have decent housing in Article 22.

The later panels discussed and debated a number of different issues relating to the housing crisis in Haiti.  A common theme that emerged was that poor planning and communication has resulted in a shortage of housing or inadequate housing, something that Milo Milfort of Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) detailed extensively.  Another MCC partner, Claudette Werleigh of ITECA (Institute of Technology and Animation) noted that the NGOs who provided immediate results received priority over those with long term solutions.  Her thoughts were echoed by Dr. Mark Schuller of Northern Illinois University in the following panel, who discussed how some NGOs are ultimately not accountable to people in Haiti.  This, he said, was a key problem in the foreign aid work being done in Haiti.  He believes that the best model is one where foreign NGOs partner with local communities and place a high value on their concerns and feedback.

While the Haitian government’s policies took some withering criticism during the day, Haitian government officials participated in two of the four panels, as well as in the discussions that followed after each of the four panels’ presentations. It was also noted that burden of accountability was placed on all actors in the housing crisis, including international donors and NGOs. We all must take a hard look at the model that has been used in Haiti and learn from the mistakes. France Francois of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) complimented MCC and CWS on having such a wide range of organizations working in Haiti present at one conference, something she says is unfortunately rarely accomplished.

Discussion panel featuring MCC partners Patrice Florivus (second from left) and Jackson Doliscar (third from left), who shared their experiences working to overcome huge obstacles in their efforts for housing in Haiti. 

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