Haiti earthquake survivors living in appalling circumstances

Six months after the earthquake disaster in Haiti, more than one million survivors continue to live in appalling conditions, with inadequate sanitation, limited access to services, insecurity and food shortages.

“It is time the Haitian government, international community and UN agencies to take concrete steps to address the protection, food security, education, sanitation and other needs of the most vulnerable populations, including those living in unofficial camps. It is essential the international donor community release the funds promised for Haiti without restrictions and facilitate the involvement of Haitian political and civil society groups in tackling the humanitarian crisis and initiating reconstruction in the country,” said Jesuit Refugee Service – Haiti Director Fr. Wismith Lazard, S.J.

Conditions in many of the nearly 1,400 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the capital, Port-au-Prince, are extremely critical. The case of the largest IDP camp where JRS serves, Automeca, with a population of 12,000, is typical: residents continue to live in shacks held up by rags and poles. There are no schools or electricity; sanitation is poor, the water barely drinkable and drainage, to say the least, hazardous. When heavy rain falls, garbage rushes through the camp.

“Camp management and aid delivery structures should always include consultation and cooperation with the displaced people who are swiftly forming their own organizations to advocate for their own particular needs. More attention must be placed on supporting the food and relief needs for IDP recipient communities and people not living in camps so that moving to a camp is not the only way for people to receive minimal food, water, and livelihood assistance,” said JRS/USA Director Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J.

Lack of security, particularly in camps that often lack electricity and lighting at night, poses a particular threat to women and children. At a meeting with JRS – Haiti on June 20, seven IDP camp leaders highlighted numerous concerns, including the high incidence of violence and exploitation perpetrated against girls aged 11 to 15 – forced to exchange sex for food – and the general lack of food security and potable water delivery, poor sanitation and deteriorating health among camp residents.

The situation in unofficial camps is even worse. Throughout the city, unofficial camp residents receive little or no care from large aid organizations or international coordinating bodies; many have even been told leave the camps but have not been provided with alternative housing.

“JRS welcomes the moratorium on forced evictions issued by the Haitian government. Unfortunately, pressure from landowners on IDPs to evacuate the sites continues. Actions go so far as intermittent disconnection of the water supply, and refusals to allow the construction of more permanent shelters and street lighting. The government needs to use its authority to protect camp residents from this kind of harassment, and put more effort into identifying suitable shelter,” said Fr. Lazard.


On January 12, 2010, more than 220,000 Haitians died – two percent of the population – and a further 300,000 were injured. With a total population of just over 10 million, the affected population in Haiti is estimated at three million. In June 2010, 1,342 IDP camps had been identified in the area affected by the earthquake, the majority with a population of between 100 and 1,000 families.


For many years Jesuit Refugee Service has had a grassroots presence in Haiti and has provided humanitarian assistance to displaced Haitians in both the Dominican Republic and along the Haitian border. In addition, JRS has responded to the needs of Haitians following successive natural disasters, a food crisis, and repeated hurricanes.

JRS – Haiti is focusing its current relief efforts in the Port-au-Prince area, working in seven camps that serve the needs of more than 21,000 displaced people in and around the capital, providing emergency assistance, psychosocial support, and training to community leaders to manage camps and civil society organizations.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA (http://www.jrsusa.org) is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to serve, accompany, and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, witnessing to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.

As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA also provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.

JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations.

JRS works in more than 57 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS provides primary and secondary education to approximately 170,000 children, and undertakes advocacy to ensure that all displaced children are provided with a quality education.

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