Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Haitians migrating back into the rural countryside

In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, people mistrustful of the buildings of Port-au-Prince have moved into the country. Many have returned to the villages of their youth. Previously they escaped the villages to find employment in the city, and now that they have returned, they worry about how they will make ends meet. Further, the leaders of the small villages worry how they will provide services to the many new people moving in.

From this New York Times feed story that we found at the Star News Online, writer Deborah Sontag describes the reverse migration.

Life has come full circle for many Haitians who originally migrated to escape the grinding poverty of the countryside. Since the early 1980s, rural Haitians have moved at a steady clip to Port-au-Prince in search of schools, jobs and government services. After the earthquake, more than 600,000 returned to the countryside, according to the government, putting a serious strain on desperately poor communities that have received little emergency assistance.

“There has been a mass exodus to places like Fond-des-Blancs,” said Briel Leveill√© , a former mayor and founder of the leading peasant cooperative in this region, which includes Nan Roc. “But the misery of the countryside is compounding the effects of the disaster. I’ve heard people say it would be better to risk another earthquake in Port-au-Prince than to stay in this rural poverty without any help from the government.”

Indeed, some have already returned to the capital seeking the international aid that is concentrated there. But if the reverse flow continues, it could undermine a primary goal of the Haitian government and the international community: to use the earthquake as a catalyst to decentralize Haiti and resuscitate its agricultural economy, said Nancy Dorsinville, a special adviser to former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

“If we really mean what we say about decentralization, then we have to think fast about a more robust distribution of food to the countryside, cash-to-work programs there, and assistance to agriculture,” Ms. Dorsinville said.

Decentralization has long been championed by many advocates for Haiti because the countryside endured decades of neglect while the Port-au-Prince area gained dysfunctional congestion. Now, with the capital city battered, it has become a policy buzzword, even as food is growing ever scarcer in the countryside.

“It is only a matter of time before we start seeing severe malnutrition in Fond-des-Blancs,” said Conor Shapiro, director of the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, which runs a 60-bed hospital and community development organization here.

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