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HAITI: Looking to the hurricane season

PORT-AU-PRINCE, 26 January 2010 (IRIN) - The Haitian government estimates at least 500,000 need shelter after the 12 January earthquake devastated the city, but the challenge is to find options that will get people through the upcoming hurricane season, which typically starts in May, said Jean Phillippe Antolin, with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is coordinating UN efforts to provide shelter.

The government has identified at least 30 sites to turn into temporary tent communities in Port-au-Prince, most in areas where people are already informally camped out, but longer-term solutions are required.

Antolin told IRIN the numbers needing shelter outstrip current resources - even for temporary tenting. “We cannot come up with tents for up to 700,000 people - we simply do not have them at hand.” He added that even where available, a tent-based community approach would be at best good for the next three months.

In a working draft of a shelter strategy for earthquake victims, the UN has proposed alternatives. They include providing support to host families to take in those made homeless, as was done after last year’s hurricanes; providing materials to improve safety and comfort in areas where people have gathered; assessing which houses are safe for reoccupation; and as a last resort, to build new settlements, which IOM’s Antolin said would be the most complicated option.

“Unless there is already donor-backed construction under way, this option is the least feasible,” Antolin told IRIN.

The government is, however, evaluating how many people can be relocated to an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)-financed construction in the Croix-de-Bouquets neighbourhood.

Bulldozers before tents?

Sites may have been chosen, mayors notified, NGOs lined up, but what is still missing to prepare temporary tent communities is heavy equipment and land surveyors, according to IOM.

Antolin told IRIN the first step to improving living conditions for those made homeless is to assess the safety of their living spaces, dig drainage and make sure the sites comply with government regulations. “To do that, we need engineers to assess the land and heavy equipment to prepare the space. We do not have either.”

“Without those two, we cannot even start worrying about the shortage of tents because we will not have anywhere to place those tents.”

He said discussions were under way with the US army’s corps of engineers.

Aid groups

Groups that are managing communities approved as temporary settlements include Islamic Relief UK, the Portuguese civil defence, the Turkish Red Crescent and the German Red Cross.

Oxfam International is working at sites called “spontaneous gathering” spots by the government, and will continue recovery efforts in Haiti for the next three years while supporting communities around the settlements, programme officer Rick Bauer told IRIN. “If we do not work with surrounding communities, the temporary tents become snob settlements and service magnets.”

Groups that are considering camp management include the US-based Samaritan Purse, UN Environmental Programme, Handicap International, the NGO Amurt & Amurtel and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Samaritan Purse has announced it is expecting a barge of equipment to dock at Port-au-Prince on 29 January, which will be made available to groups preparing land for tent communities.

Planning for more earthquakes

Haiti is likely to continue experiencing aftershocks from the magnitude-7 earthquake for months and possibly years to come, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), an earth and life sciences research organization. The Haitian government needs to take into account the inevitability of future earthquakes in its rehabilitation plans, said USGS senior science adviser, David Applegate.

“With tent communities you do not face so much the risk of building collapse in earthquakes, but rather secondary risks of landslides and drainage problems. Long-term reconstruction must take into account proximity from the fault line, while short-term relocation must pay attention to flood-prone zones,” said Applegate.

Haiti is bisected by two major plate boundary fault zones. Over the past three centuries, earthquakes comparable to or stronger than the 12 January disaster have struck Haiti at least four times, including those in 1751 and 1770 that destroyed Port-au-Prince.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Natural Disasters, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs, (IRIN) Urban Risk



Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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