Questions about the reconstruction's housing projects

Port-au-Prince, 8 January 2014 – Four years after the January 12 2010 earthquake, questions haunt the four main post-disaster housing projects built by the governments of René Préval and Michel Martelly.

Who lives in them? Who runs them? Can the residents afford the rents or mortgages? Are the residents the earthquake victims?

By some estimates, the catastrophe killed some 200,000 people and made 1.3 million homeless overnight by destroying or damaging 172,000 homes or apartments. But the new projects do not necessarily house earthquake victims, over 200,000 of whom still live in tents or in the three large new slums called Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem.

In total, the new housing projects, with homes for at least 3,588 families, cost US$ 88 million, according to government figures. (In contrast, international donors and private agencies spent more than five times that amount – about US$ 500 million – on "temporary shelters" or T-shelters.) See HGW #9

Three of the new housing projects are in Zoranje, a new settlement not far from downtown, on the border between Cité Soleil and Croix des Bouquets. The “Housing Expo” homes sit between the housing constructed by the Venezuelan government and the project known as “400 percent.” (They are also adjacent to an earlier housing project, Renaissaince Village, built by the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government.) The fourth is the Lumane Casimir Village, at the foot of Morne à Cabri, about 25 kilometers north of the capital on the highway that leads to Mirebalais.

An intersection showing mostly empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir
Village near Morne à Cabri on September 19 2013.

Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) involving over 20 interviews and many visits discovered that, even though there are newly housed families, many – probably the majority – are not necessarily victims of the earthquake. Also, several are plagued with lack of services and persistent acts of vandalism, theft and waste.

Clinton’s pet project now home to squatters

On July 21 2011, President Martelly, former US President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive inaugurated the Housing Exposition: a fair featuring about 60 model homes in Zoranje.

One of the first projects approved by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Expo cost over US$ 2 million in public reconstruction money. Foreign and Haitian construction and architecture firms also spent at least US$ 2 million more. The objective was to provide models for the agencies and businesses engaged in post-earthquake housing construction.

Everyone agrees the Expo was a failure. Few visited the site and fewer still chose one of the model homes – many of which were very expensive by Haitian standards – for their project. See HGW #20

“There were some really odd examples,” according to David Odnell, director of the government’s Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings (UCLBP), one of three government agencies involved with the housing question. “Some of them had nothing to do with the way we Haitians live or think about housing. It was a completely imported thing.”

Today, surrounded by weeds and goats, the fading and cracked houses are home to dozens of squatters.

“All the houses have new owners. They have been taken over,” explained a young pregnant girl who said her parents are “renters.”

The young woman who said she was “owner” of the girl’s house sat nearby with a child. Both women wanted to remain anonymous, but she was happy to share her story: “I didn’t follow any procedure got get this. I just took it. My brother was the security guard here. Nobody asked us to pay anything and nobody said anything. And in any case, who would we pay?”

A woman cooking in front of a model house on the Expo site on September 19 2013.
Photo: HGW/
Marc Schindler Saint-Val

According to at least four residents as well as a government consultant, the squatters are all people who already lived in Zoranje. Many of the units are now being rented out.

“Yes, that’s possible,” Odnell, an architect, recognized in a November 19 2013 interview. “And you know why. There is a void… and there is no authority there. But [the project] is not exactly a waste. I could call it poor planning, because the houses can always be recuperated.”

Odnell’s counterpart at the government Fund for Social and Economic Assistance agency (FAES), a government office also involved housing, said much the same thing.

“Aside from the inauguration week, the project has been forgotten,” Patrick Anglade explained. “Nobody goes over there because nobody was really managing the project. The entrepreneurs left and nobody promoted the houses. It’s a problem that can be solved, but we have to figure out how to do that.”

The director of the third government housing agency, the Public Enterprise for the Promotion of Social Housing (EPPLS), had little to say. (“Social housing” is known as “subsidized” or “public” housing in English.)

“We have nothing to do with that,” director Miaud Thys told HGW.

Anarchy Reigns in the House(s) of Chavez

Another new project sits practically across the street from the Expo: 128 apartments built by the Venezuelan government for US$ 4.9 million (according to its figures) during the Hugo Chavez presidency. They are usually called “Kay Chavez yo” – “The Chavez Houses.”

Earthquake-resistant, sporting two bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a kitchen, and painted in bright colors, today most of the homes house people who simply broke down the doors and moved in. Only 42 of the 128 have “legal” inhabitants: families invited by the Venezuelan Embassy. Empty for 15 months, some were vandalized. Fixtures, toilets, sinks and other items, including water pumps, were stolen. See HGW #12

“Nobody is in control over there. People just seized the homes,” Thys admitted to HGW. “We know that. Now we are trying to recuperate them.”

One of the houses at the project build by former Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez, in the process of being enlarged without any oversight, on
September 19 2013.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val 

Inhabitants are already making adjustments: changing some doors, adding windows, building gates and fences.

Surrounded by neighborhood men, Jules Jamlee sits with on a broken chair across the street from a home that is being expanded with the addition of an extra room. Like his friends, he is insistent about his right to “his” home.

“The president knows very well that we are revolutionaries,” he said. “He might make threats but he knows we don’t agree with them.”

Told of the residents’ insistence, Thys had a response: “Revolutionaries or not, we are not going to lose those apartments. We are going to send those people letters and invite them to leave so that we can recuperate them. Today we are starting with the carrot. We’ll use the stick later.”

The housing development still lacks water and residents complain that the lack of adequate water means that the toilets don’t work well. Many residents instead use nearby weedy areas for their physiological needs.

When HGW visited in June 2013, journalists learned that six out of ten residents polled said they walk to get water by bucket. Four said their toilets did not function.

New Owners Not 400% Happy

Known as the 400% or “400 in 100” project because Martelly promised 400 homes would be built in 100 days, the nearby US$ 30 million projec, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, was inaugurated on February 27 2012. The development has three kilometers of paved streets, a water system (which lacked water until just recently), an electrical system, street lamps and a square with a basketball court.

“Everything was in place so that residents would have all the basic services. In that sense, we proved that in a short time and with minimal funding, we could do well,” Anglade explained in an October 2 2013 interview.

But not all of the new residents are earthquake victims. Many are public administration employees. There was a rush to fill the houses at the beginning. And there are other complications, because the houses are not gifts. Residents must pay a five-year mortgage.

“During the first phase, and because we were in a hurry… we weren’t that choosy. Some people who got housing do not actually have the means to pay for it,” Anglade admitted.

One of the 400% residents coming home with a bucket of water on September 19 2013.
Photo: HGW/
Marc Schindler Saint-Val

The mortgages are between US$ 39 and US$ 46 per month. The contract says that “non-payment by the renter/beneficiary for three consecutive months will result in a 5% penalty for each unpaid month” and that “non-payment could lead to expulsion.”

The contract has caused a great deal of grumbling. Dozens of residents complained to journalists.

“The president did not give us a house. He is selling it to us. They are too expensive. What can a person do in this country where there is no work? How can one find 1,500 gourdes (US$ 39) each month?” asked Yves Zéphyr, an unemployed father of two who has lived in the development since November 2012.

The receipt for most recent payment made by the wife of Yves Zéphyr,
on September 19 2013. Zéphyr complained that even though he and others
pay their bills, there is a lack of services.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

FAES admits it faces a challenge.

“We are not achieving 100% payments, not even 70%,” Anglade said. “At least 30% are behind.”

A small poll by HGW gives an idea of why some people are behind. One-half of ten residents questioned said they are unemployed.

When the project was launched, the government received financing to prepare the land, build the houses, and set up the electricity system, but not for the actual services necessary for a housing development, like water, septic system cleaning, a marketplace, schools, a clinic and affordable transportation to downtown.

“We have space for all the necessary services,” explained the UCLBP’s Odnell. “They were all in the initial plan, but we couldn’t achieve all of them. In the end, we could only build the houses. We were only able to put in the water recently, once we looked for and got the necessary financing.”

While many residents say they are happy with their new homes, HGW found problems. Some roofs leaked every time it rained, and residents said that electricity was very rare. Some of the houses had been vandalized before residents moved in: tin roofs and toilets had disappeared.

Also, the septic systems for some of the houses are causing problems.

The unused toilet of Yvez Zèphyr on September 19 2013. He said the septic system
is not deep enough.
Photo : HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

“They fill up in a quarter of an hour!” claimed André Paul, who has lived in “400%” since July 2013. “Some of them are completely blocked, others are just totally filled.”

EPPLS, which shares responsibility with the FAES for the site, recognizes that the septic systems were “poorly built.”

“We will correct them,” Thys promised.

“The project isn’t finished yet,” Odnell noted. “The government needs to continue working, in order to improve the lives of the people there. Normally when you plan a housing development, all of the services are supposed to be in place and the houses come at the end. But just the opposite happened with the 400% development.”

Is Morne à Cabri a Public Housing Project?

The Lumane Casimir Village project was financed with US$ 49 million from the Petro-Caribe fund, according to the government. Named after a famous Haitian singer, the rows of homes sit in the desert-like plain at the foot of Morne à Cabri and will eventyally have 3,000 rental units. About 1,300 are ready. See also HGW #19

During the May 16 2013 inauguration, the president handed out keys to a group of families that had been assembled for the media. But they did not move in. From May to September, nobody actually lived in the apartments. Families only moved in starting in October. In the meantime, many were looted.

“Between 120 and 150 apartments were vandalized,” the UCLBP’s Odnell admitted. UCLBP is the supervisor of the site.

More than 50 toilets, and dozens of locks, windows, brackets, bulbs, electrical cables and outlets were stolen. Many apartments were also damaged by would-be thieves who used crowbars and other tools to try to wrench sinks, doors and windows from walls.

“The thieves still come,” Bélair Paulin told HGW. Paulin spends a lot of time in the area because he is waiting to see if he will be chosen as a renter.

About 200 families have already moved in and others have their keys. Some 1,100 homes remain empty.

Hopeful applicants outside the recruiting office for the Lumane Casimir
Village near Morne à Cabri on September 19 2013.
Photo: HGW/
Marc Schindler Saint-Val 

During a visit to the site on December 20 2013, Martelly announced that 250 police officers will be getting apartments and handed over keys to 75 of them, again, in front of the cameras. Several later denounced the fact that they were asked to hand the keys back after the ceremony.

All of the apartments have water and electric systems, new trash cans, a gas stove, a container for receiving and purifying drinking water, plants growing in a garden which will benefit from a regular watering service, and the promise of round-trip transportation to the capital for 20 gourdes (about 50 US cents).

Under the heavy sun, the sounds of the new residents echo though the site. Voices, doors opening and closing, cars coming and going. The village is coming to life.

A man walks through Lumane Casimir Village on September 19 2013.
Photo: HGW/
Marc Schindler Saint-Val

According to Odnell, eventually the village will have “a waste disposal system, a police station, a health center, a drinking water reservoir, a public square, a soccer field, a connection with the electricity system, a vocational school, an elementary school and a marketplace.”

The government is also building an industrial park across the street, where – authorities hope – residents can work.

“The mini-industrial park will have all the facilities necessary to create local jobs for housing beneficiaries,” Odnell promised, noting that a Canadian company has already expressed interest.

The park is not yet finished and – as of late 2013 – has not yet been registered as a “free trade zone” park.

Like other projects, the new residents of Lumane Casimir Village are not necessarily for earthquake victims.

“There are three criteria for being eligible: 1) You have to have been affected by the earthquake, 2) the person has to have a family of not more than 3-5 people, and 3) the person must have a revenue. That is the most important, so you can pay your rent, which will be between US$ 163 and US$ 233 per month,” according to Odnell.

Christela Blaise is one of the new renters. A cosmetician, she has lived at the village with her older sister and baby since October.

“After the earthquake, we lived in Bon Repos on the main highway. We were not direct victims of the earthquake, but like everyone who was looking for a place to live, we got a temporary shelter. But that didn’t last past three months, so we moved back to our home,” she said.

Housing: An immense challenge

The Haitian government recognizes that it faces an enormous challenge. Some 150,000 earthquake victims still live in about 300 camps and another 50,000 live in the new sprawling slums Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem. Half of the camps have no sanitation services and only 8% are supplied with water, according to an October 2013 report from the UCLBP and the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM)/Shelter Cluster. Residents of over 100 camps are in imminent danger of being evicted. In December, 126 families were forced to leave their homes and shacks in Canaan, near Village Lumane Casimir.

According to the government, the housing deficit will only continue to grow as people leave the countryside and smaller towns and move to cities.

“Haiti needs to meet the challenge of constructing 500,000 new homes in order to meet the current and housing deficit between now and 2020,” according to the UCLBP’s new Policy of Housing and Urban Planning (PNLH), released in October.

Image from the UCLBP’s new Policy of Housing and Urban Planning (PNLH).

The new policy is ambitious but vague. The Executive Summary sketches out five “strategic axes” that will help “grow access to housing,” including “social housing” that meets construction norms, and through the promotion of “models of housing that assure access to basic services.”

The language of the document implies that the government will seek to resolve the deficit in partnership with the private sector. In the introduction to the PNLH, for example, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe notes that “under the coordination of the UCLBP, the PNLH also makes clear the important role that the private sector is being called upon to play, side-by-side with the state.”

While this kind of orientation should not necessarily be rejected out of hand, already with the Lumane Casimir Village and the 400% and Chavez Houses projects, it appears that the government is no longer going to build social housing that is within reach of the majority of Haitians.

According to the World Bank, 80% of the population lives with a revenue of less than US$ 2 per day. Even if a couple combines its revenues, it would have only about US$ 60 a month. How could that family pay a rent that runs from US$ 39 all the way up to US$ 233 per month?

Speaking about the Lumane Casimir Village on November 11 2013, Lamothe affirmed his pride in the project, which he called “social housing.”

But, if the housing is not for the poor – such as, for example, the majority of the earthquake victims – and if, with monthly rents that reach US$ 233, it is out of reach of 80% of the population, is it really correct to call it “social" or public housing?


A Look at Abortion in Haiti

“I have had three abortions. The first time, I was 15 years old. I was still in school. I would have brought shame on my family if I had had the child. I hid my pregnancy from my parents and then had a procedure. For the other two times, I already had children… I decided to abort rather than put the future of my children in jeopardy,” a 24-year-old mother of two explained to Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW).

 “I got pregnant when I was 19 years old because my boyfriend didn’t know how to correctly use the condom. I could not punish my parents like that. I was still in school, and I couldn’t take on the responsibility of a child, so I had an abortion, with my parents’ connect,” a 21-year-old woman explained.

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 12 December 2013 – Despite the fact that it is illegal, abortion is common in Haiti.

Haitian women have the procedure in secret. Women from the lower classes are the ones most at risk, because unlike wealthy women, they cannot travel to specialized clinics in places like Florida. Poorer women have to use various medicines from pharmacists or traditional healers, or they have operations performed by doctors working without any oversight from health authorities.

Since last May, when he topic of abortion was brought to the fore, the debate has often focused on proclamations about motherhood and women’s duties. HGW decided to undertake an investigation into the reality of abortion in Haiti, in the hopes that in the future, the debate might be based on fact rather than mythology.

Olga Benoit, of the Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA or Solidarity for Haitian Women) organization, recognizes that abortion is part of Haitian society, despite being illegal. For her, fake doctors (called “charlatans” in Haitian Creole) pose the greatest risk.

There is a big difference between what the law says and what is really happening on the ground,” she said. “Ever since 1987, SOFA has noted that girls, adolescents and young women are exposed to enormous risks – risking their health and even their lives – because they have to go to charlatan to get an abortion.”

“As the years go by, more and more doctors have complained about the cases of women in critical condition who end up in the hospital after an abortion,” she added.

It is difficult to know how many women have died following abortions in Haiti. During a recent workshop, Minister of Public Health Dr. Florence Duperval Guillaume said that “of every 100,000 live births, we have recorded 630 maternal deaths,” due to complications. The ministry speculates that 20 to 30 percent of maternal deaths are due to botched abortions.

Studies estimate that there are about 40 million abortions per year worldwide, with more than four million in the Americas. Globally, half of all abortions take place under unsafe conditions and each year, 70,000 women die and over eight million suffer medical complications following abortions due to improper conditions or follow-up.

According to the recent report Abortion World Wide: A Decade of Uneven Progress, 98 percent of abortions in poor countries take place in dangerous conditions. Vulnerable women in poor countries where abortion is illegal run the most risk. In Guatemala, Mexico, Pakistan and Uganda, for example, 45 to 75 percent of women living below the poverty line have complications after clandestine abortions.

According to the Haitian government study EMMUS-V HAITI 2012 overseen by the MSPP, of 352 women who admitted to having an abortion since 2007, “40 percent said they had complications afterwards.”

Obstetrician and gynecologist Nicole Magloire, who is also executive secretary of the National Consultancy Against Violence Against Women, said that Haiti has doctors capable of performing surgical abortions safely, but, “because it is illegal, good doctors who are capable of doing the procedure in safe sanitary conditions have to operate clandestinely, and this makes it more expensive, and thus largely inaccessible.”

Completely Unregulated

Seated in a pharmacy full of medicines, cosmetics and baby items on Monseigneur Guilloux Street downtown, a pharmacist in her fifties explains the choices in familiar terms.

“If the woman hasn’t yet reached three months, she can take Cytotec pills by the mouth and another in the vagina, with a little beer,” she noted. “If she is already at three months, she needs to do a curettage, which will cost 3,500 gourdes (US$ 81.40) in our laboratory.”

A packet of Cytotec pills. Each one costs US$2.32. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler St-Val

“Cytotec” is the commercial name for misoprostol, an anti-ulcer medicine frequently used for medical abortions in Haiti. Misoprostol is the most common abortion method due to its low price, the fact that it is easy to find, and because no doctor is needed.

Women need curettage if their pregnancy is advanced beyond three months. Curettage is a procedure involving an aspirator device.

On another street, Joseph Janvier, used clothing is displayed on hangers along the wall of a building with no sign. Behind the shirts and pants, the walls are painted green and white, the traditional colors for pharmacies. Inside, a young woman sits in the hallway to answer questions and to explain the medical “menu,” which is not posted. Among other services, she sells abortion via injection.

A row of pharmacies on Monsignor Guilloux Street in downtown
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler St-Val

“If Cytotec does not work, we can do an injection. That costs 1,000 gourdes (US$ 23.25). It’s not risky. We are open Monday through Friday,” she said.

The woman is selling “Pitocin” or oxytocin, a medicine based on a hormone that causes the contraction of the uterus. Some women use it to cause an abortion.

“I frequently see women who have taken a Pitocin injection,” a nurse told HGW. “It’s easy to get at pharmacies.”

 “Leaf doctors” or traditional healers offer a less expensive method. They prepare a medicine with plants, pills and alcohol, with all the risks one might imagine. It could be considered the “Haitian medical method.”

“I mix a ‘dose’ leaves from pwason dan nwa (“Black Fish Teeth” plant) and the roots of verbena, logwood (Campeche) and mahogany, mixed with chloroquine and Saridon (acetaminophen,  propyphenazone and caffeine), with six to ten antibiotic pills, and then wine or clairin (a strong Haitian alcohol dink made from sugarcane). If the dose doesn’t work, then I give the woman a purgative,” a woman with 50 years of experience explained to HGW. “In some cases, you have to wait about 22 days to get the hoped-for result.”

Punish women or legalize abortion?

The discussion of sex is a taboo in Haitian society. But the discussion of abortion is even more so. Haitian law outlaws the practice in all its forms. Article 262 of the Penal Code punishes both the woman who has sought an abortion, as well as those who assist her.

A pharmacy on Monsignor Guilloux Street in downtown Port-au-Prince.
Photo: HGW/ Marc Schindler St-Val

The debate on the possible legalization of abortion is very contentious. Statements of all sorts have been made in the press since last May, when the MSPP launched the debate over possible legalization. But the controversy is inevitable and necessary, according to Minister Dr. Guillaume.

“All over the world, abortion is one of the great controversies,” the minister said in an article in Le Nouvelliste. “Haitian law goes as far as to condemn those involved in abortion to live in prison. This is why many of the women who die following a procedure are registered as having died of another cause.”

Various religious leaders have taken stands opposing the legalization in Haiti.

SOFA believes legalization is urgent.

“So long as the state continues to consider it a crime, it will do nothing to assure that women who are obliged to have an abortion can do so under conditions that do not put their lives in danger. At the moment, people can take advantage of women,” Benoit noted. “There are women who have been butchered by doctors but who have nowhere to turn.”

A 43-year-old woman with two children knew that abortion was risky. She did it anyway: “My husband was brutal. I knew that sooner or later, I would leave him, so I had an abortion so that he wouldn’t be leaving me with one more child. I already had two.


Haiti Grassroots Watch decided to withhold the names of the women and of the various abortion providers interviewed for this story due to the several penalties to which both would be subject, according to Haitian Law.


The challenges of reforestation

Doucet (Petit-Goâve), HAITI, 19 November 2013 – Reforestation and soil conservation programs costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Petit-Goâve region have resulted in hundreds of small ledges built of straw or sacks of earth. Eight to ten months later, in certain areas the earthworks seem to be lasting. But in many others, these little “shelves” have disintegrated.

The construction and destruction of the anti-erosion ledges – all made with development assistance and humanitarian donations – offer an example of how at least some of Haiti’s reforestations projects turn out. In some cases, at least, they could be considered vicious circles.

A hillside in the 11th communal section of Petiti-Goâve where the ledges are
more or less functioning, with small plants growing in the soil.

Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

A ledge built with dried grass surrounded by peanut plants in Doucet,
11th communal section of Petit-Goâve on October 18, 2013.

Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

In the years since the 2010 earthquake, the 11th and 12th communal sections of Petit-Goâve, 60 kms. southwest of the capital, have hosted many soil conservation and agricultural programs. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Helvetas and Action Agro Allemande (AAA), sometimes working with a local development organization – Mouvman Kole Zepòl (MKOZE) – carried out several projects aimed at rehabilitating the watershed of the Ladigue River.

The steep slopes around the river “are very vulnerable to water erosion and mudslides,” MKOZE explained in a report on a project that had a budget of US$ 91,534. “During rainy season, the waters from the Ladigue River dump a lot of sediment and rocks at the river’s mouth, destroying fields and causing homes to flood. Sometimes harvests, homes, animals and even human lives are lost.”

Deforestation is one of Haiti’s great challenges. In the Petit-Goâve region, the problem started about a half-century ago, according to many residents. It began with the devastating 1963 Hurricane Flora, which caused great damage and over 5,000 deaths in Haiti’s west and southern regions.

A few of the ledges built with dried grass on a completely denuded hillside in
August 2013 in Doucet. Peanut plants can be seen encroaching in the lower
right-hand side of the photo.
Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Molière Jean Félix, 62, remembers. He has worked the land for 35 years.

“There were a lot of mango trees at the top of this mountain. We grew corn and rice. Now you can’t even plant Congo beans there. Certain areas were forests! But today it’s more like savannas that won’t even support peanut plants,” recalled the farmer, who is today a member of a watershed protection committee.

In Haiti, trees are cut down mostly for energy uses. Most energy consumed in the country for cooking, for industrial bakeries and for dry cleaning – 75 percent of all energy used – comes from wood and charcoal, according to government figures. Félix sees tree-cutting almost every day.

“Today, young people don’t have any way to make a living. They don’t produce coffee, they don’t raise pigs. So, they cut down trees in order to send their children to school,” he said.

Recently, steps were taken to combat the region’s deforestation. Supervised by technicians, farmers and other residents of the 11th and 12th communal sections were paid 200 to 300 gourdes a day (US$4.65-US$6.98) to build ledges made of sacks of dirt, dried reeds and wattle. Funded by the FAO, AAA, Helvetas and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the teams then planted fruit or other trees inside the new structures.

The reforestation projects serve a second purpose, according to AAA and other organizations, since they provide direct financial support to people after natural disasters. According to Beate Maas, coordinator of AAA in Haiti, these “Cash for Work” (CFW) projects help families build up their capital quickly.

“[CFW] helps us hire a lot of families and assures that they get a minimal revenue. This provides immediate assistance and is therefore a real advantage,” she told Ayiti Kale Je (AKJ).

But the “salary” does not satisfy the farmers.

“That miserable amount of money lasts only two or three days,” according to Olivia Batichon, a farmer and a member of the local group Organization of Youth in Action for Development (OJAD).

Batichon and other critics claim that when someone does a CFW job, which usually lasts two weeks, they neglect their fields.

But an AKJ poll of 50 CFW beneficiaries in Doucet revealed that all of the beneficiaries appreciate the jobs. According to respondents, even though the payment is small, it is useful, and it also helps by contributing to reforesting the area, they noted.

Reforestation vs. everyday needs?

All around Doucet, the hills are decorated with hundreds of the new little ledges holding seedlings of fruit or forest trees, like eucalyptus. But there are many slopes where the ledges are disintegrating: mud is spilling out, the saplings are dead or dying. Farmers have planted peanuts, peas and other crops around the structures. In a few months, the hillsides will be a naked as they were before the reforestation project.

Ilomène Tataille is a mother, a landowner, and is a member of one of the voluntary committees set up to keep an eye on the ledges and the new plants, to assure that animals don’t eat them and to make sure the ledges are drained after each rainfall. Another task, she explained, is to make sure that farmers don’t plant anything on the eroding slopes, and especially not peanuts, a popular crop in the region.

According to Tataille, even though the CFW workers and landowners all agreed at first not to disturb the hillsides, it is almost impossible to stop people from farming. Even she breaks her promise.

“Yes, I plant there, also. We live in a very dry region. We can only farm peanuts. That is our profession. Sorry, but we don’t have any other job!” she explained.

Ilomène Tataille points out some of the seedlings that were planted but that
are having a hard time developing because of the lack of follow-up in Doucet,
the 11th communal section of Petit-Goâve, on October 18 2013.

Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Tataille noted that another problem is the fact that landowners lease out their land, so even if they have told AAA and MKOZE they won’t work the land, they can’t force their renters to follow suit.

The staff who work on the projects admit to the challenges. Agronomist Esther Paynis was a consultant to AAA for a project carried out with MKOZE between September 2012 and August 2013. 

“We told people not to plant peanuts and other crops that involve digging into the earth, like yam and sweet potato. In the training sessions we held, everyone promised to respect those principles,” Paynis told AKJ in a September 30 2013 email. Paynis said she supervised the construction of rock and earth-sack ledges for 1,180 sq. meters of land, and wattle ledges for another 2,000 sq. meters.

“If we give them advice that they later ignore, that’s not our fault. We told them the disadvantages of planting peanuts and how that could lead to the total degradation of the zone,” she continued.

During a visit in August 2013, journalists saw many young peanut plants on a number of hillsides near the ledges. Two months later, in October, recently made structures on many of those same hillsides were in various states of disintegration. Many had been destroyed and tree saplings and other plants were dead, either drowned or buried by earth, both the result of the lack of maintenance.

Criticism From Some

A few observers noted some bad choices made in the projects. For example, although Louis Calixte worked for AAA as a technician, he thinks the structures will not last.

“Some of the structures are good, but others are not good because of the kind of tree they planted. You can’t just plant a mango any old place. You have to plant it in a certain environment, where it will flourish. The same goes for eucalyptus. You can’t put it in a place meant to produce food. In other words, each species is different,” Calixte explained.

In order to get an independent opinion, AKJ consulted an agronomist who had not worked on the project.

Ludson Lafontant, an agronomist who specializes in reforestation, works in Fond d’Oies in the mountains above Léogâne, 32 kms. south of the capital. After visiting many of the Petit-Goâve hillsides, Lafontant noted that the techniques used offer many advantages. For example, the dried grass used for some of the ledges will eventually decompose and serve as compost for weeds.  However, the agronomist agreed that eucalyptus is not the best choice for reforestation.

“All plants use water” he said. “But these kinds of plants – eucalyptus and also neem – I would not put them near rivers or wells or farmers’ fields. They suck up all the water around them.”

Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looks at the nearly denuded hillsides with recently
constructed ledges, many surrounded by peanut plants, during a visit to Doucet
in August 2013.
Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Lafontant and Calixte are not the only ones to complain about the choice of plants used. Molière Jean Félix, a Doucet landowner and a beneficiary of the reforestation project, is also worried.

“These trees use a lot of water!” Félix said. “When you plant them on your patch of land, they dry it right out and the land won’t produce anything after that.”

Lave men siyè a tè?”

Junior Joseph, general secretary of OJAD in Beatrice, believes the choice of plants is not the only problem. The fact that reforestation might cause hunger – because farmers are asked not to plant their crops – is a major challenge. This contradiction can only lead to projects’ failures.

Another challenge stems from the fact that the committees established to watch over the ledges are made up of volunteers. They are responsible for maintaining the ledges, making sure their neighbors don’t plant or tie their animals to the small trees. Too little water will cause the plants to die, but too much will flood the ledges, which can cause the roots to rot and eventually kill the plants.

“The committees don’t have any support. Some people agree to work for free, but others do not,” Joseph said. “That’s when the structures deteriorate.”

Despite the fact that he worked as a technician for AAA, Calixte does not hesitate to criticize AAA for their failure to implicate local actors and to understand the needs of residents.

“A cow or goat is the peasant’s savings account,” Calixte explained.

Ilomène Tataille explains that she has not been able to make her neighbors respect
the principles to which they all agreed in Doucet. in the 11th communal section of
Petit-Goâve, on October 18 2013. Most of the ledges in this area have been destroyed.

Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

Agronomist Lafontant agrees. Reforestation is necessary but failure to implicate local farmers is a big problem. Another is the fact that the ledges are not built in a manner that takes into account the fact that farmers will plant on or near them, no matter what they have promised.

“You can’t stop a peasant who wants to work his little piece of land,” Lafontant said. “If it were me, I would close off these structures you see here, but I would build little contours with level shelves where they could plant their peanuts.”

Willio Saint-Cyr, coordinator of MKOZE, which oversaw at least two of the projects, admits to the challenges, but did not offer much of a solution.

“When you do these kinds of activities and when there is no follow-up or surveillance, it is probable that the work you did is erased, and things go back to how they were or even worse. This is because there are always ill-intentioned people,” he claimed.

During a visit in August 2013, Lafontant said he feared the reforestation project would be another example of wasted money, of the Haitian proverb “Lave men siyè a tè,” which means “wash you hands, dry them on the ground.”

But Lafontant also criticized the population and the government.

Agronomist Ludson Lafontant looking at one of the recently constructed ledges
during a visit to Doucet in August 2013
. It contains a young mango tree plant,
a grass plant, and peanut plants.
Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

“I always say we ought to love ourselves more than others love us. In other words, the non-governmental organizations come here, they write projects, they look for the money and they do the project,” he said. “The money has to be justified so they can be proud to say they have worked on a X number of hectares, built contours on a Y square meters of land and given Z number of people jobs. That’s how they justify their money. But whose problem is it? Whose country is it? It’s ours, here in our home. We need to become conscious of that.”


Behind Haiti’s Hunger

 Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 10 October 2013 – During the past year or so in Haiti, as humanitarian actors raised a cry of alarm about hunger, Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) journalists kept hearing complaints and rumors about the misuse, abuse, or negative effects of food aid.

Photo and headline from recent AP story on hunger in Haiti.

Our journalists and the community radio members who worked with them decided to investigate.

Why – when the country has received at least one billion U.S. dollars worth of food aid between 1995 and the 2010 earthquake – is hunger on the rise?

Who are the actors in the “hunger games” in Haiti and internationally?

What can be done that isn’t currently being done?

HGW and its partners visited two programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which recently ended or are ending this year:

1) In Grande Anse, a CARE food coupon program called “Tikè Manjè” (Food Voucher) at first and later called “Kore Lavni Nou” (Supporting Your Future), which ended in August.

2) On La Gonâve and in Savanette, a World Vision feeding program that targets pregnant women, mothers, and young children. It is part of that organization’s five-year “Multi-Year Assistance Program,” slated to wind up at the end of 2013.


Food Voucher Program Hurt Farmers, Favored US Exports and see the video

Questions About World Vision’s Targeted Food Program and see the video



To accompany these articles, and to provide readers with context, HGW has also produced brief summaries on key issues related to hunger in Haiti:

Why is Haiti Hungry?

Measuring Hunger

Aid or Trade? The nefarious effects of three decades of U.S. policy

Watch the two-part video documentary - 23 and 28 minutes


Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.

This series distributed in collaboration with Haïti Liberté


"Jalousie in Colors" – Makeup for misery

Pétion-ville, HAITI, 24 September 2013 – Pink, green, blue, red. From a distance the thousands of brightly colored houses look like a painting. The observer can’t see the suffering and the dangers threatening the residents of the Jalousie neighborhood; suffering and dangers that are also being ignored by the government, which is spending US$6 million on a massive makeup job.

“Danger” because just last month, experts announced the hillside slum, home to 45,000 - 50,000 people, sits on a secondary fault. 

“Not only does a fault run through Jalousie, but there is also the serious danger of mudslides in the area,” geologist Claude Prépetit explained at a press conference on August 2, 2013. Prépetit was introducing a new seismological study of certain regions of Haiti’s capital region he recently coordinated.

A page from the recent seismologic "microzonage" study showing
the areas at risk of mudslides.

Google Earth image of Jalousie (the densely populated neighborhood) taken
from the recent seismologic "microzonage" study.

Jalousie is also dangerous because many of the small houses have been built into the side of Morne L’Hôpital, on steep slopes or in ravines that serve as canals for rainwater. A recent government document notes that more than 1,300 homes should be moved because of they threaten both their residents and people living in the city below, given the frequency of mudslides during and after heavy rainstorms.

Jalousie residents are “suffering” because their neighborhood has no water system. Neighbors sometimes have to fight at the few water distribution points. Sanitation is also a problem for the almost vertical neighborhood where houses are linked by narrow stairways and alleys.

A woman and a girl carry water along a road near a painted portion of the Jalousie
neighbhorhood in September 2013. Four gallons of water weighs about 25 pounds
or 11.4 kilograms.
Photo : HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

A recent study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultral Organization (UNESCO) notes, “the population density may be as high as 1,800 people per hectare, and the living quarters range from eight to 30 square meters. Another aspect of this brutal scene is the fact that the 45,000 residents live in Pétion-ville, also home to most of the country’s wealthy neighborhoods. The social divide is striking. Massive mansions sit right next to the slum.”

Make-up to mask the misery and dangers

The Michel Martelly government says it is in the process of spending over US$6 million on the slum, but not to deal with the double-danger or to provide services.

Instead, the administration is doing what some have called a “make-up job” – painting the houses in a project called “Jalousie en couleurs” (Jalousie in Colors), as homage to the Haitian painter Préfète Duffaut (1923-2012), who often filled his paintings with brightly colored hillside houses.

But a new coat of paint is not the top priority for residents, according to a mini-survey conducted by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW). Asked what was most needed, 24 of 25 said they wanted schools for their children and one fourth added they wanted better access to water.

Just one year ago, the government announced it’s intention to destroy part of the neighborhood in a project called Sove Lavi Mòn Lopital (“Save Morne l’Hôpital”). The project aimed to knock down over 1,300 homes, reconstruct drainage canals and undertake other infrastructure improvements in order to protect the slopes and diminish the risk of mudslides and flooding.

Walls of water rush down the sides of Morne l’Hôpital – where officially it is illegal to construct or cut down any trees – during heavy rainstorms. Due to the lack of vegetation to hold it back, the mud can carry away people, animals and even entire houses. A wall of mud sometimes blocks the Union School, an Anglophone school affiliated with the US embassy and attended by the children of diplomats and the Haitian elite.

Image of Morne l'Hôpital from a Ministry of the Environment report. 

In May 2012, Minister of the Environment Ronald Toussaint explained “Operation Save Morne l’Hôpital” to Le Nouvelliste: “Morne L’Hôpital is a region that needs to be reforested in order to stop flooding downstream. We are also going to construct retention walls in the ravines, after the first demolitions. We will do this peacefully, be the government does not have any problems with the population.”

But the plan was suddenly cancelled after residents protested. [AlterPresse video here.] Rather than try to resolve the differences and misunderstandings, the government opted to fire Minister Toussaint and cancel the plan to move people out. Today, “Sove Lavi Mon Lopital” continues, but has been reduced to reforestation, infrastructure work and public information campaigns.

Protests vs. “pride”

In spite of the difficult conditions, the threat from earthquakes and the possibility of mudslides, on August 16 the government announced Phase 2 of Jalousie en couleurs.

Phase 1, carried out at the end of 2012 and in early 2013, cost the government US$1.2 million and coincided with the inauguration of the Hotel Occidental Royal Oasis, a five-star establishment where a simple room costs US$175 and a “junior suite” runs more than US$350. The hotel faces the slum. Phase 1 assured 1,000 houses were painted, making the view a little more palatable.

“Phase 2 will be even bigger,” Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told a hundred people gathered at the side of a soccer field at the August 16 inauguration. Lamothe said Phase 2 will cost US$5 million.

In his speech, Lamothe said 3,000 more homes would be painted and that the soccer field would get new stands, dressing rooms and synthetic turf. The prime minister also promised a 1.2 kilometer (less than one mile) asphalted street and the improvement of 2.8 kilometers of alleyways.

As Lamothe sang the praises of “Phase 2,” two dozen protesters with signs shouted: “We want water! We have not water” and “Schools!” and “We need a clinic!” [Télé-Kiskeya video here.]

Lamothe asked demonstrators to be “patient.”

“We’ll deal with all the problems little by little, but you know that you have many problems and we are trying to do a lot with little means,” Lamothe promised before leaving.

A sign advertising the “Jalousie en couleurs” project. The slogan is
"Beauty vs. Poverty."
Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

At least one resident – who, like most people questioned by HGW, said she would prefer to remain anonymous – is out of patience.

“What we need are water and electricity,” said a woman who lives in a small home with 11 others, including two children who do not attend school.

People waiting for water at one of the kiosks where five gallons costs up to 15 gourdes
(about 35 US cents).
Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

People fight to be the first in line at one of the kiosks. Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

None of the beneficiaries surveyed by HGW were consulted regarding the choice of colors.

“Sure, we profited from a good initiative even though we didn’t get to pick out our color, but our needs are much greater than that. We can paint our houses ourselves,” said another resident.

For others, the coat of paint has no impact.

Doing laundry by hand on her little porch, one resident said she was not at home when the painting took place, and that she is not satisfied.

“I can paint my own house,” she said. “When I got home, I saw a bunch of splashes of paint on my wall.”

From afar the colors are striking. But for the houses not facing the hotel, the situation is contrary. And for all the houses, only the visible walls are being painted.

One Jalousie resident, Sylvestre Telfort, has the same opinion as many people here: the project is meant to cover the slum with a kind of make-up or greasepaint because it sits directly in front of the hotels Oasis and the new Best Western Premier.

A view of a section of the Jalousie neighborhood with no houses painted in April 2013. Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

On its Internet site, the Oasis promises its clients a “magnificent views of the city.” Best Western, where rooms run US$150 a night, tells its future visitors that the hotel is “located in the beautiful hills of Pétion-Ville, a well-known fashionable suburb of Port-au-Prince.”

“The project to paint Jalousie is nothing more than a social appeasement carried out be the government to satisfy the bourgeoisie who for years has tried to exterminate us, in vain,” Telfort said. “They can’t drop a bomb to eliminate people. So they have to took another tack and made colored the outsides our houses.”

The former minister of the environment is worried.

“The Morne l’Hôpital situation is chaotic. It’s a matter of public safety. Some 22 percent of residents of Pétion-ville live on Morne l’Hôpital, in Jalousie and Philippo. The concrete constructions prevent rainwater from seeping into the soil,” said former minister Toussaint. “Painting is not the answer.”

A boy stands on a hillside section of Jalousie, near rock and concrete shanties
and near one of the few trees still standing on Morne l’Hôpital.

Photo : HGW/Milo Milfort

Claude Prépetit, coordinator of the seismologic study, is also concerned.

Many residents are in danger “because of the risk of mudslides and earth movements [and] the magnification of vibrations during an earthquake, because certain homes are built on a slope steeper than 30 percent, because it is near the southern peninsula and because a secondary faults cuts through it,” the geologist said. 

Prépetit thinks the government should “interdict all future construction in the region” and “identify the more hazardous areas and move out everyone whose lives are at risk.”

As a last step, after assuring the population has social service, “they can paint the facades of the permitted houses, if they want to make them pretty,” he added.

During his visit to the slum, only 14 days after Prépetit and other experts announced the secondary fault, Prime Minister Lamothe made no mention of the seismic risks.

“You are going to see what we can do to improve people’s lives,” Lamothe promised. “Your will be proud! You will be happy!”

After his speech, Lamothe and his entourage got into an SUV to drive back down the mountain. Residents went back to their daily journeys, going up and down stairs to find water, trying to survive one more day in the slum called by Best Western “a fashionable suburb.”