It has been nearly a year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people and devastating the nation’s capital.

As Haiti commemorates the dead, international attention is focused on the slow pace of reconstruction, with an estimated 1.3 million still forced to live in tents nearly a year after the disaster.

The chief obstacle preventing more homes being built is the immense difficulty in proving land ownership, explains a report jointly commissioned by Christian Aid, Progressio, Tearfund and CAFOD (476k PDF).

“Most people were living in rented accommodation before the earthquake.  It is likely that their landlord either did not have a title to land on which the house was built or their documents were lost in the earthquake,” explained Prospery Raymond, who is based in Port-au-Prince and manages Christian Aid’s Caribbean programme.

It’s often impossible to determine who owns land, and if you get this wrong, the people you’re trying to help can end up homeless again.

With little clarity over land ownership and severely limited private funds to rebuild, it is mostly NGOs both local and international, who have constructed new homes, so far on land made available by the state. 

Most of the buildable land is owned by the state or private individuals.  Until much larger swathes are made available, it will be impossible to re-house the vast majority who are now homeless, warns the report, Building Back Better: An Imperative for Haiti (476k PDF).

It is also of paramount importance that Haitian people themselves are directly involved in reconstruction planning, says the report. 

“If ordinary Haitians are not urgently given a greater role in the rebuilding process the solutions risk being inappropriate and ineffective,” says Lizzette Robleto, Progressio policy officer.

It is not just lack of basic services and protection from the elements that makes the camps unacceptable. They are also very insecure.

Women in the camps report living in a perpetual climate of fear. Sonia Pierre, who runs MUDHA, a women’s group supported by Christian Aid, reports: “Many women get sick with nervousness; their nightmare starts every time the sun sets and night falls. One of them told us that she sleeps with three pairs of jeans because this prevents would be attackers from acting too quickly. This gives them more time to scream for help.”

Children also remain vulnerable. Educational facilities are significantly undermined with fewer schools. The break up of many family units in the displacement after the earthquake has caused an educational vacuum for many young people.

“Even families who could afford to before cannot now afford to send their children to school this year because of the cost of school fees, books and uniforms,” says Christon St Fort of Tearfund Partner, FEPH (Haitian Federation of Protestant Schools).

To escape this insecurity and discomfort, many families who lost their homes in Port-au-Prince have returned to their villages in the countryside where they grew up.

Most of the international aid has been centred in the capital. But Christian Aid, CAFOD, Progressio and Tearfund have been supporting people in the countryside with both new homes and the means of earning a living. This eases pressure on the limited land in Port-au-Prince and allows people to begin a new life sooner.

If you would like further information please contact Sarah Wilson at Christian Aid on 0207 523 2277 or 07930 341 525 or 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242950    

Photograph: People continue to live amongst the rubble in the downtown area of Port-Au-Prince nearly 5 months after the January 12th earthquake that devastated Haiti. (Port-Au-Prince, June 11, 2010 © Natasha Fillion/Progressio) 



Read Progressio's report 'Haiti after the Earthquake' (PDF 753k) and find out why ordinary Haitians are calling for a greater role in the rebuilding of their country in order to achieve a successful and sustainable recovery.