3 Weeks After Quake, Shelter A Main Concern In Haiti

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There's no official death toll in Haiti, but the government has revised its estimate to more than 200,000. It says at least 300,000. For Haitians still in need of aid, U.N. officials say problems with getting food, water and other necessities are easing. Now a growing concern is getting shelter for the estimated 1 million Haitians who are now homeless.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer, in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

No one has actually counted the dead in Haiti, but the Haitian government has now revised its estimate and puts the death toll at more than 200,000, with hundreds of thousands more injured. For those Haitians still in need, U.N. officials say the problems in getting food, water and other necessities are easing. And now a growing concern is getting shelter for the estimated one million Haitians who were made homeless by the earthquake.

NPRs David Schaper joined us from Port-au-Prince for the latest on the developments in Haiti. Good morning.

DAVID SCHAPER: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Lets start with food distribution. There had been for a couple of weeks supply problems, logistical problems, security problems, but NGOs and U.N. report things are now getting better. So what are they doing differently?

SCHAPER: Well, they started a new system on Sunday in which they have 16 fixed locations where they are distributing food from in various areas of the city, Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, and every day this whole thing gets better and better. The first day they only had nine of those 16 open, now all sixteen distribution points are open, even an area called City Soleil(ph), which was initially declared too dangerous and violent for food distribution, and every day things just get smoother and smoother. They get to be working. They also have some creative approaches that they're using.

One NGO, Catholic Relief Services, is doing what they call stealth food deliveries. They distribute late at night, after 10:00, or just before dawn, and these are smaller unannounced distributions in the dark, so they dont draw the mobs that weve seen at some of these deliveries.

MONTAGNE: And of course as we know from your reporting and our folks reporting down there, people are using sticks and sheets and setting up makeshift homes in parks and on the street. You know, what about longer term shelter for these people that means these cant last that long?

SCHAPER: Well, Haitian government officials say they are developing and finalizing a better shelter strategy. They are working with aid organizations that have expertise in housing. And they say they will initially focus a lot on transitional shelter; that means more durable plastic sheeting and timber to allow people to build basic shelter in their homes or on the land where their homes used to sit. The government of Haiti is also asking relief organizations for 200,000 tents. Some government ministers have suggested survivors could be located or relocated to temporary settlements outside of the wrecked capital.

But these tent cities havent materialized yet and some aid agencies question whether thats the right direction to go, that these tent cities would pose all kinds sanitation problems and other problems. So they should be focusing on a much longer term solution. But because of the complexities and just the widespread nature of the damage, its really going to be hard to come to something like that. They wont even have rubble removed, for example, for at least a year, some officials say.

MONTAGNE: With all of that, is there any progress on demolition and reconstruction of any kind?

SCHAPER: We actually see more and more demolition and debris removal every day, but one contractor told me that its just not under any sort of coordinated plan. The government is still working toward a plan, there's discussions taking place. But most of all we hear and see in terms of the heavy machinery, knocking walls down and removing debris is done by private individuals who just dont want to wait for the government plan. And the contractor I talked to said that this could be quite dangerous because these often are people who are hired cheaply and will do almost anything for money right now. And so its another problem that exists here with the beginning of some demolition, but its not approved and they are just going ahead at it in what some think is a very dangerous way.

MONTAGNE: David, to another story that we've been following - what is the latest on the 10 American missionaries who have been held since trying to cross the border into the Dominican Republic with a busload of children?

SCHAPER: Well, Haitian prosecutors expect to decide today whether to file charges against a group of American missionaries who were involved in allegedly child trafficking. They claimed they were only trying to help these children who were left parentless and destitute by the quake. The complicating this is new information that comes out that suggests that many of the children were not orphans and they were they did have parents and that these are parents who willingly gave up their kids, trusted the Americans to provide them with a better quality of life, and that contradicts statements that have been made by this Baptist ministry group that had rounded up this children and taken them on the bus and tried to get them into the Dominican Republic.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPRs David Schaper speaking to us from Port-au-Prince.

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