Quake Survivors Struggle To Stay Dry In Haiti

Haitian officials and humanitarian groups are scrambling to provide waterproof shelter for hundreds of thousands of homeless before the rainy season begins April first. Heavy rains already have hit the capital Port-au-Prince — flooding makeshift encampments, and putting more pressure on officials for a formalized relocation plan.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now, for an update on Haiti. One of the biggest challenges there is getting some hind of housing for the more than a million people left without homes by last month's earthquake. Officials and aid groups had hoped to set resettlement camps outside the capital city, and to do it before the official beginning of the rainy season in April. Now that timeline looks to be overly ambitious. From Port-au-Prince, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Claudia Jelle(ph) shares a tent her husband made out of large branches and bed sheets with 14 other people in a camp that sprung up on the grounds of a small school for teachers. She says it feels like the rainy season is already here. The other night there was a downpour that soaked everyone.

Ms. CLAUDIA JELLE: (Through translator) We get wet when it's raining. We have to hold the babies so they won't get wet. Some of us stand up. Some of us have to sit down.

KAHN: Residents tried to dig shallow drainage ditches to direct the water out of the camp, but it didn't work. Most of the shacks sit on the school's flat soccer field. Even a little rain turns the camp into a muddy mess. There are more than 4,000 people living here. There are only six latrines. But despite the conditions, many like Elliot Huggins(ph) say they don't want to move to resettlement sites the government has talked about building outside the city.

Mr. ELLIOT HUGGINS: I used to live across the street. My house is (unintelligible).

KAHN: Huggins says he wants to clear the rubble from his lot and rebuild. Land title is often disputed in Haiti and he says people are worried if they leave the area, someone could easily squat on their property and take claim to it. Also, he says, many people make their living selling items at the nearby market.

Mr. HUGGINS: Most of these people are vendors. Going someplace else, it's not going to be profitable for them.

KAHN: Five sites outside the city have been found to relocate some of the homeless, says Patrick Delatour, who heads up the government's newly created reconstruction committee. But he says nobody would be forced to move there.

Mr. PATRICK DELATOUR (Reconstruction Committee): I don't know of anybody who has the capability to force any Haitian to do anything for the time being, and it is not the policy of this government to use force to impose any particular solution.

KAHN: Delatour says the last person who tried to use that type of force over Haitians was the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and he was sent into exile. Delatour, who has degrees from both Howard University and Columbia, says at best the five sites could fit 50,000 people, and then there is the question of its price tag.

Mr. DELATOUR: How much will that cost and who will pay for it? We are presumably the poorest country in the Americas. We did not have resources to address the issue of habitat of the population before the disaster.

KAHN: He is working on a reconstruction plan to present to a U.N. donor's conference at the end of March. In the meanwhile, the hope is to at least get a waterproof tarp to everyone living in the more than 300 encampments that have sprung up all over the city. According to the U.N., only 300,000 people have received emergency shelter material so far.

(Soundbite of volunteers unloading truck)

KAHN: On a recent hot morning, volunteers from Catholic Relief Services unload from a truck waterproofing kits for a thousand people who have spent hours in line in downtown Port-au-Prince. Most live in the encampments nearby which house tens of thousands of people.

Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

KAHN: After apologizing for the delay, an organizer explains to everyone in line that they will get one large silver tarp, rope, nails, and a bicycle inner tube that they need to cut up and stick between the nail and sheeting so the tarp won't rip away in heavy rains. Rene Distra(ph) gets his kit and walks about half mile to the encampment he's been staying in since the earthquake. We follow him into a labyrinth of tin shacks covered in bed sheets. At least 10,000 people live here.

Mr. RENE DISTRA: (French spoken)

KAHN: He pulls the huge silver tarp from the plastic bag and asks a friend for help. It took Distra three weeks to scavenge the wood scraps and the metal siding to make his tiny shack which houses his wife, their three kids and his two sisters.

Mr. DISTRA: (French spoken)

KAHN: He says he is so happy to finally have a cover. Distra says during a recent rain his family was soaking wet and the shack filled with water almost up to their knees.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: