New threat to Haiti homeless
Early rains forcing aid agencies to change housing strategy
Published 27/02/2010 | 05:00
AN EARLY arrival of the rains have added new misery to the stricken people of Haiti, forcing relief agencies to think again about strategies to accommodate the 1.5 million homeless.
Officials are now urging those left out in the cold by the earthquake to return to the ruins of their destroyed neighbourhoods as the rainy season fast approaches.
Officials had initially planned to build big camps outside Port-au-Prince. They still anticipate creating some settlements, but they decided this week to instead emphasise getting people to pack up their tents and tarps and go home.
For that to be possible, authorities will need to demolish hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings and remove mountains of rubble.
A 20-minute downpour on Thursday gave a taste of the approaching rainy season and the problems it will bring.
Floods and mudslides threaten hundreds of thousands living in camps, and many dwellings are severely damaged or clinging to the sides of hillsides.
At a camp housing 40,000 people in the hills overlooking the capital, Matin Bussreth ran for cover from his bedsheet-tent to a neighbour's plastic tarpaulin during the downpour on Thursday night.
"It's a deplorable moment," Bussreth said. "I heard they might be giving out tents. I hope someone will be giving me one."
Some of the hundreds of Haitians who lined up at a downtown site on Thursday to register for the new campaign to resettle many of the 1.2 million homeless back in their old neighbourhoods expressed scepticism about the plan.
Relief officials also acknowledged the immense challenges.
"There will be flooding. There will be discomfort, misery. And that's not avoidable," a top UN official for Haiti, Anthony Banbury, told a New York news conference this week.
Gerald-Emile Brun, an architect with the government's reconstruction committee, agreed. "Everything has to be done before the start of the rainy season, and we will not be able to do it," he said.
Brun suggested that Haitians, who expect little of their corrupt and inefficient government, may largely be left to sort it out themselves.