The People of Camp Barbancourt II beating pots and pans and making a concert of noise

Originally Published in Haiti Liberte: September 8 – 14, 2010. Vol. 4, No. 8

There are few things worse than living in an IDP camp in Port-au-Prince, but being evicted from it is one of them.

Haiti still has an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced people or IDPs living under tents and tarpaulins almost eight months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. As hurricanes spawn in the Atlantic, these nearly-homeless are being chased from their flimsy abodes by landowners indifferent to their plight.

The past two Friday, August 27 and September 3, fifteen camps threatened with forced expulsion all over Port-au-Prince simultaneously beat pots and pans, or “bat teneb,” to protest the darkness and uncertainty they are being driven into. They are demanding a moratorium on forced expulsions and an immediate solution to their inadequate shelter in this hurricane season.

“We will raise our hands to the sky and cry out loudly, sound the trumpet to wake up the authorities,” says their press release. “Remove the cotton balls deafening their ears; we will make a concert of noise in the camps, strike and beat and sound the trumpet to loudly ask the Préval / Bellerive government to respect our constitutional right to housing, food, health, school, work, water, and electricity.” President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive have not yet acknowledged the protests.

Half way through the hurricane season, on Aug. 17, the Interim Commission for Haiti’s Reconstruction (CIRH) held its first public meeting. It promised to build, among other things, 400,000 to 500,000 cyclone-proof shelters in the next three months (see Haiti Liberté, Vol. 4, No. 5, 8/18/2010).

In the past week and a half, Haiti has been threatened by hurricanes Earl, Fiona, Gaston and Hermine. As early as Mar. 23, Mario Joseph of the International Lawyers Bureau (BAI) in Port-au-Prince told the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that “it is late, very late, to start building hurricane shelters, now I say it’s too late to prevent another humanitarian catastrophe.”

Disaster prevention is as mired in bureaucracy as disaster management. Efforts to preempt a catastrophe this season have all but been abandoned. The only plan is to manage a crisis once disaster has struck.

According to a copy of the latest report from the head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) released Sep. 1: “The construction of transitional shelters remains hindered by issues related to land rights and rubble removal.”

Everything hinges on the question of land tenure and can’t be resolved without a massive investment in strengthening the justice system, which has long been crippled by corruption and neglect.

“Forced expulsions of the internally displaced violate Haitian and international law,” says lawyer Mario Joseph, “This is just the beginning of a problem we’ll be facing for years to come unless the Haitian government immediately puts a moratorium on forced expulsions, verifies land ownership titles, and nationalizes by decree all empty and idle lands in the hands of purported landowners.”

MINUSTAH’s report goes on to say “the immediate humanitarian needs of the displaced population in Port-au-Prince and the regions have largely been addressed. Over 1.5 million have received emergency shelter. Over 90 percent of internally displaced persons in the capital have access to nearby health clinics, and 2.1 million people have received non-food items, including hygiene kits. 11, 000 latrines have been installed, sufficient for the majority of the displaced. Water supply continues to reach 1.2 million people and the nutrition situation remains stable and under emergency threshold.”

This assessment’s figures are at odds with those recently collected in a census this summer by York College anthropologist Mark Schuller and a team of his students. They found 0.122 tents and 0.6 tarps per family, only 21% of people with access to a camp health clinic, only 70% of camps with toilets, and only 60 % with water.

The anger brewing in the IDP camps now threatens to disrupt the national elections planned for Nov. 28. “We refuse to participate in an election while under useless weathered tarps, while being evicted from tents, while having to survive off dirty water that causes us all sorts of sicknesses and infections,” said Reynolds Bourdeau, representative of the Barbancourt II camp. “Our children are covered with pimples and unknown itches. We demand respect for our basic rights under Article 22 of the Mar. 29, 1987 Constitution, which guarantees that the Haitian state provide decent lodgings to all its citizens.”

The UN Security Council has approved of a surge of 2,000 MINUSTAH troops and 2,180 Haitian National Police (PNH) for the elections. Barbancourt Camp residents, whom the PNH threatened with expulsion in mid-July, think the cost of such a surge should have been used to provide IDPs with better conditions, or strengthen the judicial system to defend the IDPs’ basic human rights. They have little confidence that such a surge will either protect their human rights or facilitate any kind of democratic election.

Check out Al Jazeera’s coverage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPcwX5o5vvA

And the Audio Slideshow by Ben Depp: http://vimeo.com/14552417



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