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This week marks the first anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed much of the Haitian capital and left one and a half million homeless. Housing remains one of the biggest challenges facing Haiti, as it tries to recover from the quake. One year after the disaster, more than a million people are still living in tents and make-shift huts around Port-au-Prince.
As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, thousands of people whove grown tired of these camps are now starting to build houses in fields just north of the capital.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Cabaret is the new frontier of Port-au-Prince. Its a place where a guy can grab a piece of land, put down a shack, start a new life. Over the last six months, thousands of squatters have staked out plots here on what used to be scrubby vacant hills. There are no proper roads, just tracks worn in the dirt and paths that wind amidst the haphazardly-fenced plots.
There are so many new residents here that different parts of the encampment already have different names. Theres Jerusalem, Canaan, Bacca Zuwe. At a section called Area B, theres a single hand pump for water. When we arrived, the well was locked. A gaggle of children had gathered with buckets waiting for the well manager to show up with the key.
Mr. PIERRE JEAN LEFEN (Well Manager): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Eighteen-year-old Pierre Jean Lefen is the man with the key. He says the water is locked because this is a private, not a public, well. In fact, its the only well near here. The kids each pay him roughly 25 cents to fill their plastic five-gallon buckets. Lefen says this area is booming, but theres no government services, no electricity, no toilets, no schools.
Mr. LEFEN: (Through translation) None of us around here can go to school. We dont have any way to go to school. Those kids you can see here, they stay all day long without being able to go to school.
BEAUBIEN: There are, however, small businesses popping up on the hillside, in amongst the huts - small grocery stores, a dentists office. Thirty-year-old Isdres Baptiste runs a combination barber shop-photo studio out of a red sheet-metal shack.
Mr. ISDRES BAPTISTE: (Speaking foreign language)
BEAUBIEN: Baptiste says before the earthquake, his shop was on Delmas 31, a bustling street in the capital. On weekends, he says he was always busy with people getting their hair cut and ordering photos for birthdays or other celebrations.
Baptiste says the problem now is that the people dont have any money. Many lost their jobs, others are scraping just to get by. He says photos and haircuts are now considered luxuries.
(Soundbite of pig)
BEAUBIEN: The growing encampments on the hillsides of Cabaret are different from the overly crowded camps in the heart of Port-au-Prince. Here, the shacks are spread out. People have planted vegetable gardens. Pigs root around in the dust. Theres room to keep flocks of chickens.
Cabaret, however, lies between a line of steep, denuded mountains and the ocean. In the run-up to Hurricane Tomas in November, aid agencies tried to evacuate 8,000 people from a nearby tent encampment out of fear that it could get flooded in a major storm.
But concerns about floods and hurricanes arent keeping people away. Pastor Amos Noel has erected a small open air church in the area.
Mr. AMOS NOEL (Pastor): (Through translation) Day by day you see a new family move in. For example, today there was a truck that pouring sand and stone down here for a house to be built. Every single day you see a new family, new face come to live here.
BEAUBIEN: If space is open, someone takes it. Most of the houses are simple huts, but some people are building solid, cinder-block buildings. One even has a garage.
For decades, Haiti has had a chaotic land title system. After the quake, with so many government buildings destroyed, its even less clear who owns what.
Aid groups say one of the biggest obstacles to building new or even transitional housing is the lack of clear land title in the Haitian capital. Here this isnt yet a problem because the squatters are simply ignoring the issue.
The pastor says this is government land. Others say it was abandoned. What is clear is that thousands of Haitians have given up on waiting for the government or aid groups to move them out of the overcrowded camps in Port-au-Prince.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News
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