Canaan: Haiti's Promised Land

In the six years since Haiti’s major earthquake, the world has been focused on building a quake-resistant, investor-friendly Port-au-Prince. But ten miles north of downtown, over 200,000 of the displaced are creating their own solution, with virtually no government or NGO support. Residents themselves are transforming this scrub-covered range of hills with no water, electricity, roads or other city services— Biblically named Canaan— into what will soon be Haiti’s third-largest urban center, erecting their own electrical poles, making cinder blocks and trucking in water.

According to the U.N., in 2004, nearly one billion people lacked tenure security in urban areas globally. Haiti’s quake displaced an incredible 1.6 million people, many of whom still live in tenuous conditions. Even now, Canaan’s residents are threatened with eviction from a previous land-owner. Canaan itself sits on a dangerous flood plain. Meanwhile, early arrivals are renting out land that they don’t really own. Born of disaster, Haiti’s unlikely city may one day be destroyed by one.

What can a group of impoverished, displaced people—who for six years have been regarded as helpless victims—teach the global aid industry about urbanism in the 21st Century? Is Canaan a promised land or another disaster in the making?

Updated on 6/4/2016