ROAST CHICKEN AND POT PLANTS; AMID HAITI'S CHAOS COMES A TOUCH OF ORDER
(Guardian.co.uk) - By Rory Carroll
Cité Maxo – one of 1,300 known camps housing 1.5 million people – is clean and safe, but owner wants land back
Cité Maxo was born on a steep, rocky ridge two days after the 12 January earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. Dazed and dusty, bloodied and thirsty, the first settlers climbed the slopes to escape the apocalypse below.
It was a traumatic beginning few care to recall. Today, almost 11 months later, they prefer to show what they have made of their new home – a maze of tarpaulin, wood and tin covering what once was pasture.
The first thing that hits you is the smell of roast chicken. It wafts from charcoal fires tended by women and girls. There is no stink from latrines or rubbish. Then you notice swept pathways, potted plants and miniature gardens lining the shacks. Doors have leather shoe soles as hinges, with plastic bottle tops protecting nails from rust.
"We hang up these sheets to give each of us some privacy," said Jean-Baptiste Metelosse, 56, showing his family's well-ordered earth-floor home. A green and white tablecloth covers a desk.
Cité Maxo is not just clean, but safe. Residents take turns guarding it from "rude boys" who rob and rape in other settlements. "Security here is sweet, sweet," said Jeanne Caricia, 27, a mother of four.
It is also democratic. An elected committee of eight men and three women sit on a rough-hewn wooden bench every Saturday to decide on issues such as waste disposal and water supplies.
In a ruined capital so often associated with despair, this settlement of 7,000 Haitians shows dignity and ingenuity. Cité Maxo's existence, however, is more evidence of failure than success.
The quake, which killed more than 230,000 people and shattered infrastructure, prompted a global outpouring of sympathy and offers to help. Bill Clinton, the UN's envoy to Haiti, promised to "build back better". A donors' conference in March pledged $6bn.
Plans were drawn up for a remodelled Port-au-Prince to replace the chaotic, pre-quake slums. There would be street grids, bicycle lanes and parks. Decentralisation and new towns would draw people from the overcrowded capital.
No one ever said it was going to be easy, but with the anniversary looming much of the rebuilding talk remains just that. From the collapsed presidential palace to crumpled hotels and hovels, rubble remains ubiquitous. Of an estimated 25 million cubic metres of debris, 98% remains.
Cité Maxo is one of 1,300 known spontaneous camps where 1.5 million people await, in the UN's term, "shelter solutions". What were intended to be temporary settlements are in many cases morphing into semi-permanent slums.
In other cases they are on the verge of being forcefully uprooted. About 65% of the camps are on private land. Since March landlords have started demanding their property back.
"A truck with masked men came last week and told us to leave," said Touren Jackson, 23, a resident of Cap y Verte, a camp of 8,000 people in Cité Soleil. "They said next time they come they'll act up," he added, imitating a gun with his hand.
Authorities worry tensions will escalate. "The issue is how to avert the increasing number of forced evictions by landowners who are losing patience and want IDPs [internally displaced people] off their land," said Lilianne Fan, co-ordinator for the UN's Haiti housing, land and property cluster.
But camp dwellers have nowhere else to go. Their former homes have not necessarily been destroyed. Engineers have categorised about half of houses in Port-au-Prince as structurally solid, or "green", and another quarter as "yellow", meaning easily repaired.
Moving people back, however, involves multiple, tangled problems such as fears of another quake, uncleared rubble and inability to pay rent. There is confusion over occupancy and land tenure, with few people having legal title deeds.
A shortage of funds has compounded the delay. Of the pledged $6bn, only $2bn has been committed, of which only $732m has been spent, mostly on trying to put the government back on its feet.
"We are still in the emergency phase. In the camps it's about life-saving," said Julie Schindall, Oxfam's spokeswoman in Port-au-Prince. "It's not rebuilding, it's band-aid."
Donors had not followed through on pledges and Haiti's government was wrestling with how and whether to buy – or expropriate – land. "These are hard choices, and upsetting elites is not a strength of the political system," she said.
The landowner of Cité Maxo has not sent thugs, but he wants the camp gone and has refused to allow the construction of permanent structures. "We're stuck," said Vital Martin, head of the camp's committee. "We don't want to stay here forever but can't move." The biggest problem was unemployment, he said. "With jobs we would get an income, options."
The sound of hammering leads to one of the few residents with paid work. Willy Joseph, a barechested and sweating ironmonger, guts old fridges and car engines and turns them into small charcoal stoves. "Takes a while to sell them but it keeps the family fed."
Outside her tarpaulin home, a neighbour, Antoinne Marie Jolie, 38, used one of the stoves to heat an iron. She then wiped it clean and ran it over her daughter's white schoolshirt. "I used to be able to plug it in. It'd be nice to be able to do that again some day."