01/10/2012 11:01 EST | Updated 03/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Haitians Waiting For Housing Two Years After Earthquake


When Roger Annis visited Haiti last June, he was devastated by what he saw — but not surprised.

The temporary relief shelters erected after Haiti's 2010 earthquake had turned into a tent city, still occupied by Haitians who had lost or left their homes in the wake of the disaster. "The visit confirmed some of our worst fears for the post-earthquake situation," said Annis, coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network.

The housing situation in Haiti is still not viable, he said. Close to half a million people are still living in the tents, and thousands more have moved back to urban areas and are living in damaged structures in danger of collapse.

Annis said they are driven back to the damaged structures because they don"t expect better housing situations any time soon.

"It's all very slow, it's all very small-scale," he said, adding that most of the shelters aid organizations provided were intended as short-term solutions.

He said Haitians are reacting by moving back to buildings marked as yellow or red in the aid organizations' color-coding system, indicating that they are not safe to live in. For Annis, this presents a massive concern that is not being addressed by many aid organizations.

"Why is this not getting any attention? Because it's a bit of an embarrassment to the international efforts," he said.

But aid organizations are quick to identify the housing situation as one of the primary problems.

UNICEF Canada President David Morley says that the housing situation is one of the greatest causes for concern. "When you talk to people in the tent cities, there are two main obstacles that I see.

"One is that a million people have found places to live that were living in tents before, but half a million people are still there," he said.

In a way, Morley said, aid organizations have become "victims of their own success," since many Haitians say that the tent cities provide better shelter than where they lived before the earthquake hit.

But having people remain in the tents indefinitely presents a serious problem that undermines the success aid organizations have had in other areas, like healthcare and education.

The direness of the housing situation is approached only by the difficulties Haitians face in finding jobs.

"The second thing that people want that's beyond the purview of aid agencies is jobs," he said. "They want to earn their own living, they don't want to be dependent on outsiders."

Jobs too reliant on foreign funds

Annis believes that efforts to revitalize Haiti's agriculture industry would help jump-start their economy in a way that allows them to become self-sufficient. He says the urban factory model leads to overcrowding in the cities and an over-reliance on foreign investors.

But foreign investments are declining anyway, as operations shift from emergency relief to long-term development.

"There's a regression happening as the funding dries up," Annis said.

Morley also mentions funding cutbacks, noting that UNICEF's former $350 million budget for Haiti is dropping to about $50 million this year.

Morley is hopeful that this will be enough to overcome many of the obstacles aid organizations are still facing in Haiti.

"I think it's important that people do have the sense that progress is being made," he said. "There's a sense of people being able to rebuild."