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Report: Haitians Still Living In Emergency Phase

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Report: Haitians Still Living In Emergency Phase

Latin America

Report: Haitians Still Living In Emergency Phase

Report: Haitians Still Living In Emergency Phase

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks to Melanie Teff, senior advocate for women's rights at Refugees International, about the group's new report, "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase." On a recent visit to Haiti, Teff found that people who found refuge in camps after the Jan. 12 earthquake are living in fear of hunger, rape, intimidation and fear of eviction.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Meanwhile, nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million people in Haiti are still living in camps. In a new report, the humanitarian aid organization Refugees International describes these camps as chaotic places, where people live in fear of hunger, rape, intimidation and forced eviction.

Melanie Teff is senior advocate for women's rights at Refugees International, and she's recently back from Haiti. And, Melanie Teff, your report is titled "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase." Nine months on, how can that be?

Ms. MELANIE TEFF (Senior Advocate for Women's Rights, Refugees International): It is very shocking really. And when one sees the state of the camps, it is stunning that over nine months after the disaster, people are living in these overcrowded, squalid conditions.

KELLY: And describe for us - I mean, what does it actually look like as you wander around these camps?

Ms. TEFF: Well, the first thing that hits you I think is how overcrowded they are. And then you see that people are living in tents in materials that were given out nine months ago. So they've rotted. When it rains, the camp fills with mud, and excrement from the latrines overflows.

And when you talk to the residents, you hear about this sense of being abandoned. They feel abandoned. Some of the most striking conversations I had were with women's groups who were telling us about women feeling forced to exchange sex for food because they had no other way of supporting their family, of women who had suffered gang rapes, of increased domestic violence because of the levels of stress that people are suffering in those camps, also the fears that they have of being evicted.

Miserable as the camps are, they've got nowhere else to go, a lot of them. And so they're scared now because landowners are starting to say they want their land back.

KELLY: Who is supposed to be in charge of these camps?

Ms. TEFF: Well, the agency that is responsible for camp management is the International Organization for Migration. They have, of course, a mammoth task and really not enough agencies are coming forward willing to assist with camp management. Less than 30 percent of the camps have managers, and that leaves this sense of chaos.

KELLY: No leader who can enforce rules, set rules and then enforce them.

Ms. TEFF: Exactly. And no one for people to go to, to raise problems.

KELLY: Melanie Teff, I mean, as awful as the situation you're describing sounds, we should note many of these problems were problems before the earthquake in Haiti. There was already a high rate, for example, of sexual violence. I mean, is it fair to expect international groups and camp managers to come in and solve all of this?

Ms. TEFF: Certainly, I agree that there was a huge problem of sexual violence and domestic violence in Haiti before the quake. And no one can expect a silver bullet and the agencies would come in and just solve it, of course not. But I think that more attention needs to be given on allocating experienced protection workers, experienced social workers who are able to assist in these situations.

KELLY: Can you point specifically at what is needed to start fixing some of this? You're describing a failure of leadership. I understand there are also funding problems in terms of getting the money that's been pledged actually to people on the ground in Haiti. I mean, is it across the board a problem? Are there specific things that could be done right now that would help?

Ms. TEFF: Well, first of all, the funding needs to come through and very little of the pledged funding has come through, so that block needs to be eliminated. The Haitian government needs to step up and determine how it's going to organize landownership because that is blocking people from rebuilding. And the U.N. agencies need to coordinate better. They need to make sure there's translation into Creole in their meetings and make those meetings open to Haitian leadership.

KELLY: And all of that, I guess, is leading toward the ultimate solution here, which would be to find a way to help these people move out of the camps and back into some sort of more stable, long-term housing.

Ms. TEFF: Absolutely. This situation is not sustainable.

KELLY: Thank you very much.

Ms. TEFF: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's Melanie Teff. She's senior advocate for women's rights at Refugees International. And she's one of the authors of the group's new report, "Haiti Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase."

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