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Violence Obstructs Resettlement for Haiti Quake Victims

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Lisa Schlein

More than 1.5 million people remain homeless in Haiti nearly six months after a devastating earthquake hit that Caribbean island state.  The International Organization for Migration says violence by organized gangs and land disputes are hampering resettlement efforts.

The International Organization for Migration says a planned emergency relocation of more than 1,100 displaced people has been called off because its staff was threatened with violence.

IOM spokesman Jared Bloch says IOM has been forced to temporarily suspend the move after armed thugs allegedly hired by landowners threatened to disrupt the operation.

He says this group of homeless people is living on a flood-prone plain, which has been declared a health hazard.  He says it is critical they be moved to a safer area quickly.  

"Some 263 families in the Parc Fleurieux area or Port-au-Prince are living next to a football field that is flooded with stagnant water contaminated by an open sewer," said Bloch.  "In this neighborhood, women are washing their clothes in a muddy creek and they are using water coming from a rain sewer.  Consequently, skin infections are widely reported as are malarial cases.  The Haitian government with IOM and international non-governmental actors agreed that the health situation of this group was critical and that urgent action was required to prevent a public health crisis." 

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti with terrifying force on January 12 killed an estimated 230,000 people and made more than 1.5 million people homeless.

Almost six months after this catastrophic event, daily life for the homeless remains a misery.  IOM estimates only about 10,000 of those whose homes have been destroyed have been resettled.

Bloch says many of the quake victims continue to live in tents and dilapidated homemade shelters.  He says it is unlikely that many of these flimsy structures will survive the violent storms or hurricanes forecast for the summer.

"Attempts by the government to acquire land by decree have had mixed success with the result that there is real little improvement to the plight of the displaced population," Bloch added.  "Efforts to return people to their own communities become thwarted by the lack of legal title, while law suits are threatened against those who remove rubble without permission."  

Bloch notes the violence that halted this week's planned resettlement operation was not a one-off experience.  He says aid workers confront such violence on a daily basis.  

He says IOM is encountering armed resistance against resettlement on a regular basis.

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