COLUMBIA — The people of Haiti are not waiting for foreigners to solve their problems.
“I know Haitian people that are very politically active and they’re organizing themselves; nobody was sitting around waiting to be saved.” said Valerie Kaussen, who returned Saturday from her second trip to Haiti after experiencing the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the capital city on Jan. 12.
Seeing Haitians organizing peaceful demonstrations and debates to advocate for their needs was the only bright spot in a trip marked by sadness at how little progress has been made.
“They’re not attacking the international community or the aid delivery,” Kaussen said. “They’re sending their message to the state, to the (Haitian) government.”
Thursday marks seven months since the quake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, and recovery efforts continue to crawl. Government bureaucracy and a lack of consistent support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have resulted in more than a million and a half people still living in temporary tent shelters, with unreliable access to food and water, Kaussen said.
“Reconstruction, in terms of rubble removal, looked exactly the same to me as it did in April,” she said. “I really saw no progress. It’s shocking, quite honestly.”
Kaussen, an associate professor of French at MU, has been traveling to Haiti since graduate school, and was continuing research on the way the disaster has affected Haitians’ perceptions of home.
During this trip, she met with people from the Haiti Shelter Cluster, a United Nations-affiliated organization responsible for coordinating aid distribution in Haiti.
Under the cluster system, an NGO voluntarily takes responsibility for the management of a particular camp, organizing housing and other non-food aid like showers and medical care.
However, only about 35 percent of the camps have this type of management, Kaussen said.
“The International Organization for Migration is supposed to be the camp manager of last resort,” she said. “However, for whatever reason, they’re not able to take on that task. So 65 percent of the camps don’t have regular aid, aren’t really being taken care of.”
Bureaucracy seems to be bogging down aid distribution in a system with no oversight, she said.
“It’s very random which populations, which camps get aid and which don’t,” Kaussen said. “In more dangerous areas, areas with criminality, NGOs won’t go there. And if the NGOs don’t go, nobody goes.”
Illegal eviction from camps by the government is another problem plaguing many tent-dwellers, she said.
The Force for Reflection and Action in Housing, FRAKKA by its Creole acronym, is a grassroots group working to educate locals about their rights when it comes to housing. Rights that include “decent housing,” according to article 22 of the Haitian Constitution.
“There are all kinds of granted rights that people don’t get to take advantage of,” Kaussen said. “But it’s a good sort of political issue to rally people around and to inform people that they have this constitutional right.”
Haitian politics are making headlines worldwide, as hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean announced his bid for presidency in the upcoming election. But locals fear the election news will take attention away from the really serious problems, Kaussen said.
“The elections are important, and it’s certainly fun to hear about Wyclef Jean and his candidacy,” she said. “But it shouldn’t deflect from what’s going on on the ground.”