A devastating earthquake in 2010 left the entire country of Haiti in utter shambles. Already the poorest country in the western hemisphere, Haiti’s humanitarian crisis was exacerbated after the destructive earthquake left hundreds of thousands of people helpless and without basic necessities or shelter.
“The amount of poverty that I observed was just shocking,” says Ed Hubbard, Habitat for Humanity of Collier County board member and affiliate delegate. “More than 40% of its population is currently unemployed, with 80% of the working population living on less than $2 a day.”
The amount of poverty that I observed was just shocking,” –Ed Hubbard, Habitat for Humanity of Collier County
Ed recently visited Haiti as a guest of the country’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate, attending their first-ever Affiliate Summit—allowing for representatives from various Habitat for Humanity affiliates in the United States to see the plight of the impoverished country first-hand and to understand the approach and progress of Habitat Haiti.
“I still can’t get over the living conditions. I saw countless unsafe and cramped homes that lacked even life’s most basic necessity: water,” Hubbard says. “The majority of the homes have no water or electricity. More than half a million people are homeless there—a figure that was nearly doubled by the earthquake.”
Image courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Haiti
Community Based Organization’s Partner with Habitat for Humanity
Where the Haitian government is failing woefully in the recovery, the ailing country is relying on community based organizations and their members to provide the relief and sustainable support so desperately needed. Habitat for Humanity is one of the few international organizations that has recognized the need for a long term approach that is based on a careful assessment of the Haitian peoples’ needs and priorities.
“It’s through patient, persistent outreach and consensus-building that Habitat for Humanity Haiti has developed substantial credibility in urban communities,” says Hubbard. “The approach is to build ‘community’ first, and then build homes. A basic social structure must be developed in tandem with a physical infrastructure in order to have success in a country where so much has failed.”
Property Rights and Legal Issues for Land
One such solution, and perhaps the only potential answer to the Haitian housing crisis, led by Habitat for Humanity, is a property rights program that solves land rights legal issues—a bureaucratic nightmare that stymies peoples’ ability to own property.
“Habitat for Humanity has convened judges, lawyers, notary publics, government officials and others to document a process to gain title to property,” says Hubbard. “The documentation has been accepted by the Haitian government and a pilot program has already begun that allows for property transactions to be documented.”
Experiencing Hope for a Better Future
During his trip to Haiti, Hubbard immersed himself in the communities of Simon-Pele and Canaan, speaking with locals, building homes, and working alongside fellow Habitat for Humanity leaders.
Image courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Haiti
Simon-Pele, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
“Simon-Pele is a ‘red zone’ neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, known for its perilous gang activity. However, the massive steps that have been taken to begin to improve the neighborhood are evident,” says Hubbard. “For example, Habitat for Humanity established both streets and addresses for more than 6,000 households. It’s incredible to see the glimmer of hope and enthusiasm on the faces of the people of the neighborhood. The growth and change happening here looks wonderful. I’m excited to see what time has in store for this once dangerous neighborhood.”
Canaan, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Next, Hubbard visited Canaan, which is a large community of 200,000 on the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince. This community was established as a result of eminent domain being exercised by the government on a large parcel of desert land. Following the 2010 earthquake, tens of thousands living in tent-cities were forced to migrate to Canaan—an area without water or electricity.
Habitat has begun to help home owners organize street layouts and begin to assign individual home addresses. Work has also begun to define priority issues to be addressed first. Habitat will look for other organizations as partners to help deal with basic health needs and to leverage Habitat efforts for greater impact.
“The community based organizations and community council in Canaan welcomed Habitat for Humanity, especially after the success in Simon-Pele,” says Hubbard. “I saw residents building their own homes as they accumulated materials and were trained to build safe, decent homes for their families. I believe that if the people of Haiti keep learning and growing, they are certain to brightly improve the lives of future generations to come.”