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The fate of Bristout and Bobin neighbourhoods (Between relief and reconstruction)
Richener NOEL, June 2012

Bristout and Bobin are among the neighbourhoods of the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince which experienced major upheaval following the earthquake of 12 January 2010. It is true that before the earthquake, both neighbourhoods were very poor, but life had a semblance of normality, without any major tensions between people. The population had not been affected by gang violence or the political upheavals of recent years in contrast to other poor neighbourhoods. With more than 35% of houses damaged by the disaster, around 40% of the population found themselves distributed between 15 camps. Today, more than two years later, the results of the humanitarian response which followed appears to be generally positive, notably due to the actions of Architectes de l’Urgence and Solidarités International, who drew up a document entitled Profil Quartier de Bristout-Bobin, on which this article is partly based. The withdrawal of international agencies has nevertheless left a certain number of unresolved problems hanging. Worse still, perspectives for the future have never been so unclear. This article has been written as a prelude to the research project, “The Environment and reconstruction in the metropolitan region of Port-au-Prince” which is currently being carried out by Groupe URD.

 Bristout-Bobin: an accumulation of neighbourhoods and camps and the invention of a form of community governance.

The neighbourhoods of Bristout and Bobin are located in the north east of the centre of Pétion-Ville and are principally accessible via the Péguy-Ville road. They are the names of two distinct, but neighbouring localities that have approximately the same history and the same social conditions. They are generally referred to together in the form Bristout-Bobin or Bristout & Bobin. In the north and west, the limit of the two neighbourhoods, which cover 15 hectares [1], is the largest dry ravine in the Ravine-Bristout area, which forms a physical barrier. The eastern and southern boundaries are not as defined, but the high walls which protect the large villas nearby show that there is a very clear boundary socially, which, in our opinion, limit the neighbourhoods and camps of Bristout-Bobin to the shanty-town alone. The inhabitants therefore live more or less in the same conditions: a peri-urban fabric of informal settlements and spontaneous camps where thousands of people live in obvious poverty.

Approximately 4 750 families (more than 20 000 inhabitants) live in the neighbourhoods, 40% of whom found themselves in camps following the earthquake of 12 January 2010. There were comparatively fewer victims here than in other neighbourhoods: around 20 people were killed and around a hundred people were injured, according to a community representative. In a context where aid organizations are withdrawing, displaced people are probably more vulnerable to the negative effects of the socio-economic crisis caused by the disaster. The situation is all the more difficult for those who are physically handicapped, orphans, pregnant women, single female heads of households and people with chronic diseases (HIV/AIDS, Cancer, diabetes, etc.). Those in charge of this camp are not currently in a position to estimate precisely the level of vulnerability of these specific cases. Future studies should establish what the real effects of humanitarian aid have been on the lives of these people, comparing their socio-economic conditions before and after the earthquake using established indicators.

Bristout-Bobin has the same characteristics as other poor informal and spontaneous neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince. Even before the earthquake, its inhabitants were faced with a large number of constraints, notably those linked to insalubrity, insecurity, non-existent or deficient public services and poor housing. The earthquake only made the situation worse. Simple observation shows that the majority of houses are built on steep slopes and have not been subject to regulations, which explains why the earthquake caused so much damage. In addition to the houses which were completely destroyed (number unavailable), 15% of houses were considered to be beyond repair (marked in red), 20% were partially damaged and needing repairs or reinforcements (marked in yellow), 40% resisted well and were able to be immediately re-occupied (marked in green) and more than 20% were not taken into account in the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communications’ evaluations [2]. In February 2011, a year after the earthquake, more than 60% of the affected houses had not yet received any repairs. In more than 30% of cases, it was the inhabitants themselves who were active in repairing their houses. For the time being, there is no up-to-date data: no information about the number of houses repaired, or how the repairs have been financed. However, informers relate that there has been a large amount of self-rebuilding in the two neighbourhoods.

Bristout-Bobin are among the neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince which are not directly administered by a municipal or state authority. Indeed, the only elected representative, a city delegate who represents the neighbourhoods in the municipal assembly, does not have an administrative role, but rather a consultative role with the municipal authority. However, the municipal authority has not been able to respond to the inhabitants’ needs. Governance has therefore been community-based, via a number of organizations, for a long time. Amongst these are the Comité pour le Développement Communautaire de Bristout (CODCOB), Union Tèt-ansam pour le Développement de Bobin and Mouvements des Jeunes Unis pour le Développement des Pétionvillois (MOJUB). After the earthquake, another structure-platform emerged, bringing together the committees of the different camps. This structure, which is called the Comité de Coordination Générale de Bristout/Bobin (CCGBB) has become much stronger and has been used as the main distribution channel for humanitarian aid in the neighbourhoods and camps. It has recently been reinforced with the support of the newly constituted Centre de Ressources Communautaires (CRC). The CCGBB also plays the role of interlocutor and facilitator for operators in the two neighbourhoods. It has campaigned for numerous works on behalf of the community, such as the concreting of certain streets, the installation of solar street lights, the organization of cultural and sporting activities, the management of sports grounds, etc. It is clear that there is a strong community dynamic in Bristout-Bobin.

The coordination committee plans to launch a new census in order to have precise data about the situation and the number of people who live in the camps. Indeed, since the earthquake, there has been some migration between the neighbourhoods and camps of Bristout-Bobin. A large number of people, including some who have received aid to repair their houses and others who have taken the initiative themselves, have left the camps, while others who have left camps in the centre of Pétion-Ville and the wider metropolitan region have moved in the opposite direction. It also appears that some poor people from the provinces, who were not victims of the earthquake, have come to live in the camps. This coming and going makes it extremely difficult to estimate the number of people who still live in the camps [3]. It has to be said that the relocation projects currently being carried out in the metropolitan region have not yet reached the neighbourhoods/camps of Bristout-Bobin. For the time being there are around twelve small and medium-sized camps (between 50 and 400 families), and those that have closed have done so due to the efforts of the displaced themselves. A representative of the Comité de Coordination told us, “The relocation process has not yet reached Bristout-Bobin. And we are not in a position to say whether this neighbourhood will be involved in the process”. He also mentioned that UNOPS had provided support to repair certain houses.

Community representatives pointed out certain housing repair activities carried out by international organizations which, rather than allowing a significant reduction in the number of camp occupants, increased cases of cheating. Cases were described where certain people who had had their houses repaired chose to stay in the camps and rented out their houses to other people. In other cases, people rented out their shelters and stayed in their tents. According to the Comité de Coordination, if they had been involved in these projects it would have allowed them to be monitored more effectively and would have helped to reduce the number of people living in camps more substantially, for the same investment of means. They also felt that the methods used by NGOs were not all effective or efficient, which shows that these are very closely scrutinized by local organizations.

[1] The data used in this article are drawn from “Profil de Quartier de Bristout-Bobin”, Architectes de l’Urgence and Solidarités International, April 2011. Certain community representatives also provided us with useful information.

[2] These figures come from the study by Solidarité International and Architectes Sans Frontières, which was conducted with families, and not from the counting of buildings.

[3] The same observations were made in other situations in Port-au-Prince. If we look inside the camp, a fluid reality can be observed, characterized by the migration of the IDPs, not only from one camp to another in the case of eviction, but also from camps to the provinces, from camps to neighbourhoods and from camps to houses. People move in a functional manner, so that it is possible to see – though difficult to quantify – the phenomenon of empty or “zombie” tents, which people do not live in but come to from time to time (Giovanna Salome (2012). Camps, transitional sites et relogement à Port-au-Prince après le séisme du 12 janvier. CERI/CNRS. www.cerisciencespo.com/archive/2012/janvier/dossier/art_gs.pdf) »

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Profil de Quartier de Bristout-Bobin, Architectes de l’urgence and Solidarités International, April 2011