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Study on Security and Humanitarian Aid in Haiti
Arnaud Dandoy, Caroline Broudic, June 2013

 

Indeed, in order to restore mutual trust, it is necessary to have in-depth knowledge of neighbourhood social structures and to give priority to dialogue in order to manage tensions more effectively. But, the security approaches developed by numerous humanitarian organizations, and particularly since the earthquake, are more based on the principle of confinement which creates distance and distrust between staff and the local population. The principle of confinement is sometimes pushed to the extreme, as in the case of the United Nations’ Log Base, an ultra-secure area some kilometres from the city, or the residential neighbourhood of BelVil, a veritable island of wealth in the heart of Petionville, where representatives of the Haitian bourgeoisie and the international community live [3].

More generally, this spatial segregation can be seen, to varying degrees, in the bunkerisation of the offices of international organisations and the residences of their expatriate staff, with surrounding walls and barbed wire, private security guards who control access and sometimes watchtowers which give these buildings and areas a military aspect. The obsession with security within international organizations also leads to interference in humanitarian workers’ private lives. The defensive buildings are combined with strict rules regarding humanitarian workers’ family lives, mobility and movements: they are not allowed to walk in the streets, use public transport or drive, they have to respect a curfew and they cannot enter certain “at risk” areas in Port-au-Prince, etc.

But, the effectiveness of these security measures is debatable. Some may even have the opposite effect to the one aimed for, increasing feelings of insecurity and leading to a cycle whereby people are pushed further and further apart. This voluntary isolation of the international community can also have a negative impact on those who are left outside these security bubbles (based on the principle of crime displacement). It is interesting to note that territorial planning and social cohesion are central issues in the policies of international organizations in Haiti. And yet, few consider their own role in terms of the security-based fragmentation of cities and social division.


[3] These more or less autonomous protected areas are based on the model of the “gated communities” of the USA, which are described by Blakely and Snyder (1997) as “residential neighbourhoods where access is restricted, and in which public space is privatized. Their security infrastructures, generally walls or gates and a guarded entrance, deter non-residents from entering. They can be new neighbourhoods or older areas which have become gated, and are located in urban and peri-urban areas, both in richer and poorer areas" (Blakely and Snyder, 1997).