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Haiti's Next Big Hurdle: Water

  • As if the Jan. 12 earthquake weren't devastating enough, Haiti now faces the rainy season, which usually begins in late spring. After heavy rains overnight Wednesday and Thursday, a girl jumps across a flooded field containing the sewage runoff from the Mais Gate tent city near the airport in Port-au-Prince.
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    As if the Jan. 12 earthquake weren't devastating enough, Haiti now faces the rainy season, which usually begins in late spring. After heavy rains overnight Wednesday and Thursday, a girl jumps across a flooded field containing the sewage runoff from the Mais Gate tent city near the airport in Port-au-Prince.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Margarette Brutus, 50, tries to clean a bedsheet soiled by the muddy waters that flooded her tent after heavy rains. Since the earthquake, her family has been divided, as she found more stable housing for her older children in different camps.
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    Margarette Brutus, 50, tries to clean a bedsheet soiled by the muddy waters that flooded her tent after heavy rains. Since the earthquake, her family has been divided, as she found more stable housing for her older children in different camps.
  • Margarette reaches out for help as she attempts to remove her belongings from her tent.
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    Margarette reaches out for help as she attempts to remove her belongings from her tent.
  • Ten-year-old Alex Mertulus stands in the mud in the Mais Gate tent city. He and his mother, Margarette Brutus, are fighting a losing battle as they try to find durable, dry housing.
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    Ten-year-old Alex Mertulus stands in the mud in the Mais Gate tent city. He and his mother, Margarette Brutus, are fighting a losing battle as they try to find durable, dry housing.
  • Families collect their belongings and begin moving out of their camp, flooded with waters containing sewage runoff. Aid organizations and government officials are scrambling to avoid a catastrophe when the rainy season intensifies.
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    Families collect their belongings and begin moving out of their camp, flooded with waters containing sewage runoff. Aid organizations and government officials are scrambling to avoid a catastrophe when the rainy season intensifies.
  • A young boy plays in contaminated water outside a flooded tent in the Mais Gate tent city after heavy rains flooded the area in the middle of the night on Thursday. Quake survivors tried to stay dry and dig tents out of the mud, but they are already having to relocate to new camps.
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    A young boy plays in contaminated water outside a flooded tent in the Mais Gate tent city after heavy rains flooded the area in the middle of the night on Thursday. Quake survivors tried to stay dry and dig tents out of the mud, but they are already having to relocate to new camps.
  • A Haitian man attempts to dig a trench in the mud to alleviate the flood damage. As the heavy rains begin, the question is no longer simply how to find housing for Haitians, but also how to keep them dry.
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    A Haitian man attempts to dig a trench in the mud to alleviate the flood damage. As the heavy rains begin, the question is no longer simply how to find housing for Haitians, but also how to keep them dry.
  • In a futile effort, Alex Mertulus scoops water with a small bucket at the entrance of his tent. His mother, Margarette, lost her husband and home in the earthquake. This is the second time she and Alex have had to move among Haiti's tent camps because of  flooding.
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    In a futile effort, Alex Mertulus scoops water with a small bucket at the entrance of his tent. His mother, Margarette, lost her husband and home in the earthquake. This is the second time she and Alex have had to move among Haiti's tent camps because of flooding.
  • Margarette and Alex empty a bucket of dirty water into a drainage ditch.
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    Margarette and Alex empty a bucket of dirty water into a drainage ditch.
  • Margarette uses safety pins to hold up her makeshift roof. According to The Associated Press, approximately 1 million people are still homeless more than a month after the earthquake.
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    Margarette uses safety pins to hold up her makeshift roof. According to The Associated Press, approximately 1 million people are still homeless more than a month after the earthquake.
  • Alex remains with his mother as they attempt to survive amid the earthquake's wreckage and, like other Haitians, take things one day at a time.
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    Alex remains with his mother as they attempt to survive amid the earthquake's wreckage and, like other Haitians, take things one day at a time.

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Margarette Brutus, 50, lost her husband and home in the Haiti earthquake in January. Since then, she and her 10-year-old son, Alex, have spent the past month in various displacement camps in Port-au-Prince. And their situation is getting worse. Heavy rains fell on Wednesday and Thursday, swamping their encampment with contaminated waters and suggesting Haiti's next big hurdle: the floodwaters of rainy season. This means even more displacement for Margarette and Alex.

Relief workers say the rainy season, which typically begins in the spring, will jeopardize the diminutive progress they've already made. It will also prompt new (and even more severe) infrastructural and sanitary complications. Of the 600,000 people occupying Haiti's tent cities, many are still without plastic tarps. In the rain, bedsheets currently being used as protection from the sun are soaked with not only rain but also muddy floodwaters polluted with human waste. A Reuters article reports:

Economists from the Inter-American Development Bank have estimated that damages from the quake could reach $14 billion, making it proportionately one of the most destructive natural disasters in modern times.
Haiti's leaders say that, despite the tens of millions of dollars of foreign aid that have poured in since the quake, they have still not received enough tents, tarpaulins and temporary structures to shelter the homeless.

Displaced Haitians like Margarette are at a loss, reports NPR photographer David Gilkey from Port-au-Prince. Just when it seems as though things can't get any worse, they do. And unless some drastic action is taken soon, the future could be even grimmer. The Associated Press reports:

In the meantime, people are planning to stay in some very dangerous places: at the bottom of hillsides they know will collapse in a heavy rain or near riverbeds that are bound to flood. They are crowded into polluted areas where sanitation is limited and disease is already starting to spread. ... People simply do not want to go far from where they always lived and worked.

Charities, relief agencies and government organizations around the world are scrambling to fortify relief efforts. The quake may have been over a month ago, but the need for aid in Haiti is just as urgent as ever.

View more of NPR's photographic coverage from Haiti.

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