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Haiti: Why are 1.3 million still homeless?

Port-au-Prince market in Haiti.

First we heard there had been a massive earthquake in Haiti.  Then we heard the news we feared most – that it had struck close to the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

The official population of the city according to the 2003 census is around 700,000, but in fact, it is home to more than 3 million people.

And more than 85% of these people lived in slums on the hillsides in the city – tightly packed, poorly built, concrete buildings on uneven ground.

They proved no match for the quake and literally crumbled. More than 180,000 houses were destroyed, and each of these was a home to children and their families.

Now the slums lie in ruin, and their residents have no option but to make a home in a tent in one of the many crowded camps.

In the early stages of an earthquake response, there are plenty of challenges – not least getting access to affected people, bringing in enough supplies, and dealing with ravaged infrastructure.

But the actual solutions are pretty simple – people needed food, clean water, basic supplies.  As time progresses, the answers to the questions of what will happen to the 1.3 million people living in the tented camps are not so easy to find.

The slums cannot be rebuilt as they were before, and nor should they.  Since the quake, the world has promised to ‘build Haiti back better’ and for the now homeless slum residents, they may well ask what that will mean for them.

Port-au-Prince is a city built on limited space.  Nearly 9 out of 10 of Port-au-Prince’s residents lived in slums prior to the quake.  They lived in appalling conditions: little electricity, no sewers, no shops, little health care, limited access to schools, high crime rates.

The high death rate caused by the quake is in part due to the nature of the high density of the slums and the poor quality of buildings. The vast majority of families have no claims to land ownership and now live with virtually nothing to their name.

The recent cholera outbreak and Hurricane Tomas have highlighted the urgency in finding a sustainable and healthy solution to the enormous shelter crisis.

We are committed to helping Haitian children and their families recover from January’s devastating earthquake and have already achieved a great deal, reaching 700,000 children and adults with food, supplies, health care services, clean water and toilets, schools.

But it will take an enormous, coordinated effort between the Government of Haiti, international donors and aid agencies to really bring about a better future for the past residents of Port-au-Prince’s slums.

Find out more about what we’re doing in Haiti

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