More than 1,000 Haitians marched through the Caribbean nation’s capital on Monday to protest a reported plan to destroy their hillside shanties for a flood-control project before they find better, more permanent dwellings in the wake of a devastating earthquake. Police fired tear gas in an attempt to control the protesters, some of whom threw rocks.
The demonstrators snaked through the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area chanting threats to burn down the relatively affluent district where the shanties sit if the authorities flatten their homes.
The No. 2 official at the Haitian Ministry of Environment, Pierre Andre Gedeon, said on a local radio broadcast last week that officials want to demolish several hundred homes to build channels and reforest the hillsides in an effort to curb the deadly floods that come with the annual rainy season. Officials have made no other public reference to the plan.
Many of the threatened homes are in Jalousie, a cinderblock shantytown that spreads across a mountainside alongside the affluent city of Petionville that makes up the Port-au-Prince metro area.
The protesters said Haitian President Michel Martelly fell short on his promise to build homes destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. The disaster destroyed tens of thousands of houses in the capital and other cities in the south and officials said 314,000 people died.
“Martelly didn’t build any houses. How can he destroy our homes?” Joel Jean-Pierre, 22, said.
The government is building hundreds of homes north of the capital, but too few to house the more-than-400,000 people still living in the precarious settlements that emerged in the aftermath of the quake.
Port-au-Prince, a city of about 3 million, has seen concrete houses and hovels sprawl across its hills because governments past and present have failed to provide affordable housing. Many of those homes crash down the hills every year during the country’s rainy seasons and people often die.