Fear that slum will replace earthquake camps in Haiti

"We're like people who have been abandoned"

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Three-and-a-half years after a devastating earthquake that killed 200,000 people, Haiti is slowly returning to normal.

There used to be 1.5 million people living under tents in the immediate aftermath of the quake - that number has now dropped to 320,000.

Much of the rubble has been cleared from the capital Port-au-Prince.

But there are fears that a gigantic new slum could spring up on the capital's outskirts.

In the heart of Port-au-Prince, a choir poses for photographs in Place Boyer.

The park, which in January 2010 was a sea of tents housing those made homeless by the earthquake, is now a beautifully manicured space, with elegant red flowering Flamboyant trees.

Mosaics line the paths. Boys play basketball, friends hang out, and couples stroll holding hands. There is even free wi-fi.

The earthquake rubble that was piled up in the streets of the capital when I last visited 18 months ago has largely disappeared - and the mountains of plastic bottles that littered the roadside and blocked canals are gone from the city centre.

Eviction concerns

The ruined presidential palace, which was a symbol of the earthquake's devastation, has been cleared away - and the infamous Champ de Mars camp for earthquake victims no longer engulfs nearby streets.

The statue of Haiti's independence leader Toussaint Louverture can be seen clearly. The tents and the sea of humanity which surrounded it have gone.

"Haiti has come a long way since the earthquake," Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe says.

"We are collecting three times as much garbage as we did before the quake. When we took over, we had 1.5 million people living in tents - with very little hope. We plan to relocate everybody by the end of President [Michel] Martelly's first term."

Some left the camps voluntarily, others were given a rent subsidy.

Start Quote

If we have a violent slum developing around the road that leads to a tourist area, this is not going to work”

End Quote Agathe Nougaret Oxfam

But there are concerns that forced evictions are also responsible for the declining numbers in camps in Port-au-Prince.

Agathe Nougaret, the urban co-ordinator for Oxfam in Haiti, says families have had their tents burnt down in the middle of the night, forcing them to flee.

While it's not clear who's behind this, she says: "What we think is it's a connection between some armed gangs and landlords who are fed up because they've been waiting three years to get their land back."

Prime Minister Lamothe says the government "does not believe in forced evictions". But some ask whether it is in the government's interests to turn a blind eye.

Many of the camps in the highly visible areas of Port-au-Prince have now gone.

And beneath the mountains at the gateway to the capital a vast, sprawling shantytown is taking place.

This is Canaan - but it is hardly the Bible's promised land.

It is dusty, bleak and very hot here - the sun beats down day after day, with very little shade for those who live here.

As far as the eye can see, homes are springing up. Some are corrugated iron huts, others along Rue Jerusalem are made of breeze blocks.

What was originally a camp for those made homeless by the earthquake has become a magnet for the poor, for those displaced by tropical storms.

'Forgotten people'

This land was claimed by the Haitian government in the aftermath of the quake, so people who cannot afford to pay their rent come here because they do not believe they will be evicted.

Rosamund has lived in Canaan since her home was damaged in the January 2010 earthquake - she and her children survive by selling gruel.

"We have no water, no electricity, we have nothing here but dust," she says, as she swats away flies from her toddler's eyes.

Agathe Nougaret of Oxfam worries that Canaan is "a slum in the making" since there are no basic services here, and no jobs.

Haiti's government estimates there may be 300,000 people living here.

Restaurants are springing up - and there are churches and makeshift schools.

Inside one school, the Institute for the Formation and Education of Exemplary Children (IFEEC), Venise the teacher leads young children in song.

She says without jobs in Canaan, it's hard for parents to afford the few dollars a month it costs to educate their children here.

"We are the forgotten people," she adds, sadly.

The prime minister visited Canaan this week and the government is now going to provide water and electricity to the people here.

Ms Nougaret says there is a desperate need for these basic services.

"This sprawling area is at the gateway to Port-au-Prince, right on the road that leads to a tourist destination," she observes.

"We know that Haiti's government is trying to promote tourism. If we have a violent slum developing around the road that leads to a tourist area, this is not going to work."

Mr Lamothe points out that Haiti has inherited a whole host of problems, quite apart from the legacy of the earthquake.

"Haiti is getting back on its feet," he says confidently.

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