Haitians still face squalor as they struggle in camps

A refugee advocacy group says displaced Haitians continue to live in overcrowded, unsanitary camps that are plagued by violence — nine months after a deadly earthquake ravaged the nation.

The Washington-based Refugees International issued a report Thursday saying the U.N.-directed humanitarian response in Haiti appears to be paralyzed, and more resources and experienced personnel are needed urgently.

The group says people displaced by the January earthquake have been forced to live in camps for long periods of time that, combined with dwindling food and other assistance, has led to increased levels of violence, including sexual assaults.

It says the displaced are being preyed upon by gang members and that camp managers are ineffective, arbitrarily appointed or completely absent.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council last month, U.N. Special Representative Edmond Mulet said Haiti still has a number of challenges, including maintaining order in the camps, which he said were still plagued by sexual violence.

Refugees International notes that Mulet serves both as the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti and head of the peacekeeping force in the nation. The group says a full-time humanitarian coordinator must be established to more adequately protect the rights of the displaced.

It is calling on donor nations to fund the U.N. refugee agency to allow it to increase its staff and better coordinate the humanitarian effort in Haiti.

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit near Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Jan. 12, killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million others homeless.

International donors have pledged nearly $10 billion for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Mulet told the Security Council in September that not all countries have followed through on their pledges, and he urged them to do so.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who is a U.N. special envoy for Haiti, visited tent camps in the country Wednesday and heard from the residents about the insecurity, squalid conditions and lack of jobs.

On another front, the international charity Oxfam says the food aid pouring into Haiti is harming the country’s economy, especially its agricultural sector. Oxfam says the international community needs to make a radical shift in how it deals with rebuilding the country.

Oxfam says the aid that poured into Haiti after the earthquake was needed for the millions who were displaced — but it has not been good news for the country’s agricultural sector.

International senior researcher for the charity group, Marc Cohen, says the majority of Haitians live in the countryside and depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but for decades investment in that sector has been poor.

“Dating back even into the late 1950s, the focus of both the Haitian government and donors was on urban development,” Cohen said, “and to some extent a manufacturing sector and there was very little investment in the rural areas.”

He says that situation has not been helped by the major influx of overseas grains to cope with the earthquake.

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