Tuesday, June 01, 2010
No Shelter for Upcoming Storms in Haiti
Photo by John Carroll--Tent City Champ Mars
No shelter from the storm for Haiti quake victims
By BEN FOX (AP) 20 hours ago
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ‹ A hurricane season predicted to be one of the
wettest on record opens Tuesday in the Caribbean, where hundreds of
thousands of Haitian earthquake victims have only tarps or fraying tents to
protect them in a major storm.
The Haitian government, which had five months to prepare, says it's still
working on emergency and evacuation plans. But it is unclear where people
will go with many churches, schools and other potential shelters toppled by
Since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed up to 300,000 people and left more than
1.5 million homeless, there has been little progress on clearing rubble so
people can return to their neighborhoods or building sturdier shelters.
Dr. Jean Pape, one of the country's most prominent public health experts,
estimates that only 1 percent of the masses stuck in dangerous flood zones
have been relocated.
"There's no give here. Time is just running out," said Mark L. Schneider,
senior vice president of the International Crisis Group. "There's no
question that large numbers, tens of thousands, are going to be in
situations of misery when the rains come."
Already, the moderate spring rains that drench Port-au-Prince almost daily
leave camp residents up to their knees in putrid water.
Claudia Toussaint, a 24-year-old camped near a golf course, dug a shallow
channel in the dirt under her tarp in a futile effort to keep water away
from her mattress.
"When it rains, we don't have anywhere to go, we don't have anywhere to
sleep," she said. "We just get soaked."
The problem goes beyond more misery in about 1,200 temporary camps. Vast
numbers of people are exposed to disease-carrying mosquitoes. Serious
flooding could cause mass casualties even with thousands of aid workers and
U.N. peacekeepers present.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted as
many as 23 named tropical storms, which would make this season one of the
more active on record. The quake has forced Haiti to update its storm
contingency plans, said Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, including
positioning emergency food and equipment.
A response team has been set up to deal with rain emergencies in camps.
"We don't need a hurricane to have problems in Haiti, we just need three or
four days of continuous rain to have serious problems," he said in an
interview with The Associated Press.
But Bellerive couldn't say how the plans are being updated. And he said the
country's condition remains "fragile," even though aid groups and government
officials have said since the quake that flooding is a major looming
The Atlantic storm season always poses a risk in mountainous Haiti. Tropical
Storm Jeanne killed nearly 3,000 people in 2004, and a series of 2008 storms
killed 800 ‹ mostly in the country's central region north of Port-au-Prince.
The capital city rarely gets a direct hit; it is protected by the mountains
that separate Haiti from the Dominican Republic. But even modest storms are
deadly in this deforested nation where entire cities are routinely plunged
The international community and private aid groups have pledged or delivered
$3.1 billion to help Haiti after the earthquake and are promising nearly $10
billion more for reconstruction.
But so far, the government has relocated only about 7,000 vulnerable people
to two safer camps.
The relocation is slow because the crippled government doesn't have enough
money to complete a job that includes not just setting up new tents, but
providing work, schools and services.
"You can't just move people to a new location and say 'take care of your
life.'" said Pape, director of the GHESKIO clinic.
The Salvation Army has started building two-room shelters for 600 families
in the southern town of Jacmel despite bureaucratic delays in getting the
material through Haiti's ports.
The cement-secured wooden supports are designed to withstand winds of up to
30 mph, and the raised wooden floors to prevent Haitians from risking
disease by using water flowing through their homes for hygiene and cooking.
They expect to complete the structures within a month using Haitian labor.
Protesters have criticized President Rene Preval for a lack of progress in
reconstruction. Schneider says all involved need to move faster.
"It's not that people are doing things that are wrong," he said. "It's that
people need to do the things that they are doing faster."
Magdaline Oscar lives with her husband and 6-year-old son in a trash-strewn
road that leads to the capital's main garbage dump. She showed visitors the
murky water that pools under her tent and splashes through its torn sides.
During storms, they flee to a neighbor's shelter, though many of the other
tents in their encampment are also now damaged after five months of use.
"The wind and the water is destroying them," said the 26-year-old. "I don't
think it will last much longer."
Elsewhere, people are taking a do-it-yourself approach ‹ adding corrugated
steel and plywood to homes first constructed from a few bed sheets and
plastic tarps. Leon Louis was confident about his prospects as he set up a
shanty in the Champs de Mars, the capital's central plaza.
"The rain might fall, but we'll be in a stable place," Louis said.
Associated Press writers Jonathan M. Katz and Yesica Fisch contributed to
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