Monday, June 07, 2010

Haiti Not Ready for Hurricaine Season

Picture by John Carroll--UN Soldier at large tent city in Port-au-Prince

Posted: June 6, 2010
Haiti not even close to being ready for hurricane season

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Behind the once-exclusive gates of this quake-ravaged nation's only golf course, thousands of sandbags cut a path up and down steep hills, while a new road doubles as an emergency evacuation route.

But for every Petionville Golf Club where gravel and sandbags have been laid to save lives in case of dangerous flooding, there are dozens of camps like Marassa 14, where nothing has been done to prepare for hurricane season.

Hundreds of tarp-covered shacks crowd a flood-prone ravine.

Last week ushered in the official start of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, and Haiti is far from ready for what meteorologists predict will be a heightened storm season with at least 15 named storms.

About 1.5 million homeless earthquake victims remain under tents and tarps in at least 1,200 camps.

Roads remain cluttered with rubble. The Haitian government has designated only two new emergency relocation camps. And few hurricane-resistant transitional houses have been built as the government and international aid groups continue to wrestle with land issues: how to get more of it, how to put up temporary houses, and how to get camp dwellers with safe homes to return or seek higher ground.

"When we first started this operation ... we hoped that we would be able to build a significant number of transitional shelters by the start of the hurricane season," said Alex Wynter of the International Federation of Red Cross.

Initially, the U.S. military designated nine camps, including the Petionville Golf Club, as priorities because some 29,000 people in them were considered most at risk of being washed away with flash floods and landslides.

Since then, the International Organization for Migration has determined that engineers must inspect 120 camps in Port-au-Prince because of concerns about flooding, landslides or standing water from heavy rains. The inspections will determine the measures needed to reinforce the camps, said Shuan Scales, the agency's camp planner.

At the same time, IOM has removed more than 263,000 cubic meters of garbage and sludge from more than 6 miles of storm drains -- some haven't been cleaned in 15 years -- to reduce the risk of flooding in the capital.

Looking for land
But while new drainage ditches, cleaner canals and even better pre-positioning of relief supplies by the World Food Program will help reduce the loss of lives, what's desperately needed is available suitable land to relocate camp dwellers, say frustrated aid groups.

For weeks, President Rene Preval has been leading 7 a.m. discussions with key government officials and humanitarian aid groups about how to encourage people with homes to return. The challenge for the government is that as squalid as the conditions are in the camps, many there are reluctant to leave because they do not own their own homes.

The discussions continue and a lot of it is centered on the Champs de Mars. The population at the downtown Port-au-Prince public square is officially at 25,849, according to the IOM. Others put it as high as 60,000 in the months since the Jan. 12 quake, which killed a government-estimated 300,000 people.

Dozens of tents that were installed several miles away near the old army airport to relocate residents living on the Champs de Mars remain empty, as do many of the homes in the nearby Turgeau neighborhood. Assessments by U.S. army engineers determined that 40% of the homes in Turgeau, where many of the initial residents on the Champs de Mars lived, were safe.

But the sprawling downtown camp in front of the ruined presidential palace is not the only pressing concern.

Haiti and international aid agency officials are working on the logistics and financing for hurricane-resistant shelters that can be quickly built and hold up to 800 people. The shelters are desperately needed in Leogane, which lost more than 80% of its housing.

"The question is who can finance them? And where can we put them?" said Thomas Pitaud of the United Nations Development Program.

UNDP has been holding workshops with Haitian disaster risk officials to discuss different storm scenarios and remapping dozens of communities to determine new evacuation routes and water patterns.

"The same rain that is killing 200 people in Haiti is not killing anybody in Cuba," said Bruno Lemarquis, UNDP director for Haiti. "It's not the disaster that kills. It's the way a country or its people are prepared."

Last week, former President Bill Clinton, cochairman of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, visited Leogane to raise awareness of the need for hurricane-resistant shelters. Clinton said he was pleased with efforts to provide temporary shelter. Clinton pledged $2 million from his foundation for recovery, including $1 million for disaster preparedness and hurricane safety.

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