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In Haiti, cautious hope around effort to find families new homes

The 16/6 program in Haiti helps families who have lived in tents since the 2010 earthquake move to proper shelter amid long waits for their former homes to be rebuilt. 

By Giordano CossuContributor / January 12, 2012

Claircil Luxarmor, a widow, holds her baby in Haiti’s Maïs Gaté camp. She says she can’t find a new place to live because she must look after her children.

Giordano Cossu

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti

For nearly two years, some 2,000 families lived crammed together in a makeshift camp called Maïs Gaté on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Set up spontaneously in the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, it was an unforgiving stretch of land, barren, rendering the insides of tents unbearable through much of the year.

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Now, only burned logs, some toothbrushes, and broken toys bear testament to two years of uncertainty and desperation for thousands of displaced Haitians. On Jan. 12, the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, almost everyone had gone: Residents moved out in December as part of a resettlement program called 16/6, which aims ultimately to relocate displaced people living in six refugee camps back to their 16 original neighborhoods.

The plan, announced in July by President Michel Martelly, offers cash to families to rent a home while the 16 badly damaged boroughs of the city where they were living are refurbished. It is run through four United Nations agencies in partnership with the national government, as well as local city councils. Four camps have been cleared and the remaining two are set to be emptied soon. 

To some observers, that is testament to the benefits of a plan that lets the homeless move into proper shelter. But others say it is not a sustainable solution, as refurbishing of houses has barely started and rebuilding may not start for months.

Amid a painfully slow reconstruction process hampered by politics and the chaotic flow of donor funds, the government-appointed director of the program, Clément Belizaire, is optimistic about the program’s impact. “It is the model we plan to extend to other camps,” he says enthusiastically.

But concerns remain. First, 16/6 only targets a fraction of people still displaced in Haiti: 30,000 are targeted, out of the 515,000 living in more than 700 camps. Second, its funding is shaky: with costs estimated at $78 million, only $30 million is currently secured by the Haiti Reconstruction Fund because of bureaucratic snags.

This financial uncertainty is further amplified by the fact that the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the body established to coordinate relief efforts and the allocation of resources, ended its 18-month mandate last October and a new mandate has not been extended, amid split opinions about its actual accomplishments. And many worry that the philosophical underpinnings of the plan – including getting residents back to their places of origin – is only a goal on paper, as Haitians are likely to scatter to wherever they can find an affordable place, most likely in a poorer area.

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