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Haiti: Survival And Poverty In Carrefour

By Nazaire St Fort

21 November, 2007

Carrefour is one of the most impoverished and populous districts of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. It is located several miles from downtown Port-au-Prince, flanked on the west by the bay of La Gonave and to the east by the bay of Hospital Mountain. Among Carrefour's many slums Souray is the most impoverished, amazingly given the wealth generating potential of its beaches.

How did beaches become slums?

Massive migration from the countryside since the second half of the 20th century has vastly outpaced the willingness and capacity of the public and private sector to provide jobs, education and housing. The poor quickly occupy the few abandoned buildings in Carrefour.

Squatters take up property on the beaches, as did those who migrated to other poor communities such as Site Soley, Lasalin, Site de Letenel and Site de Dye. Souray residents are often reduced to using large rags to divide their shacks up into rooms. They subsist as best they can. Old men gather excitingly to play dominos, a popular past time amongst the poor.

Relentless population pressure forces people to use the sea as a dump so that the slum can expand. Old men try to eke out a living by fishing in the polluted sea. These fishermen have no technical or economic assistance from the state Agriculture department.

Women often work as street vendors. They make a little money by selling fish or fruit, barely enough to feed their own children. In Carrefour the government has not provided them with a decent public market. It has become common now for district police to arrest "informal" merchants or illegally seize their merchandise, as the poor cannot afford a legal vendor permit.

The families of Carrefour often live on less than one US dollar per day and suffer from malnutrition. The lack of access to potable water and basic health care further compounds the problem. Few can afford to attend school. With few options young people are put at high risk of going into prostitution and crime.

Carrefour and its slum of Souray sit obscenely close to the splendor of Haiti's National Palace. Residents comment how their community has barely ever benefited, as politicians, NGOs and businessmen pass their community over. The government's police and UN soldiers seem only to
take notice when gang violence or popular protests erupt.

To tackle the increasing poverty and decay of urbanization on communities like Souray, the answer lies in a revitalization of Haiti's agricultural system. Haitian agriculture must be rescued from further neoliberal "reforms" and the damage inflicted from previous "reforms" must be repaired. Higher tariffs on foreign agricultural products, investment in farming and new types of cooperatives as well as an improved road network could help revitalize Haiti's agricultural economy. Only a strong agricultural economy can halt the influx of rural populations into urban slums like Souray.

The residents of Souray say that they do not want indiscriminate assaults by UN soldiers and the police but instead a sane and compassionate policy.



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