Amid Slow Recovery, Haiti's Tent Cities Remain The task of getting Haitians displaced by January's devastating earthquake out of tents into temporary shelters is going far more slowly than planned. Aid agencies have built only 10 percent of 130,000 units of temporary housing that were promised.

Amid Slow Recovery, Haiti's Tent Cities Remain

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Now, to Haiti, where recovery from January's devastating earthquake is, by all accounts, moving slowly. Case in point, the process of moving people out of tents and makeshift huts into temporary shelters. International aid agencies pledged to provide 130,000 units of temporary housing, but only 10 percent has been built so far. Adding to the urgency of the situation, many of the tents and tarps that were distributed seven or eight months ago are disintegrating.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: In the Tabarre Issa camp, just north of Port-au-Prince, more than 500 tents are laid out in long, straight rows in a field of gravel. The camp was set up by the Haitian government six months ago to move homeless earthquake victims out of a dangerous ravine in the capital. Even before the earthquake, the ravine was prone to flooding and mudslides.

Each triangular, cloth tent is large enough to fit two single beds, although many people sleep on the gravel floors. The tents used to be white, but mildew and exposure to the elements has turned them a dull gray.

Ms. CLAUDETTE AMILKA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Forty-nine-year-old Claudette Amilka says water comes into her tent whenever it rains.

Ms. AMILKA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The water is a problem here, Amilka says. She says her roof leaks, and in heavy downpours the camp floods, pushing water over her cloth threshold.

And Amilka lives in one of the most organized, structured camps in Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims ride out the rains in makeshift huts in the city's chaotic encampments.

Months ago, international donors passed out tents, tarps and plastic sheeting to just about every displaced family in Haiti. But now, the tarps are fraying, the plastic sheets are patched with tape and the tents are wearing thin.

Mr. BOB FIDDES (Manager, Tabarre Issa Camp, Concern Worldwide): These were not meant to be long-term tents. They were, you know, short-term relief tents.

BEAUBIEN: Bob Fiddes, with the Irish aid group Concern Worldwide, is the manager of the Tabarre Issa camp. He points out how the cloth on a tent in front of him is getting threadbare.

Mr. FIDDES: We've got our fingers crossed that this tent will last till the day he moves into his house. But what you see back here, and we're looking at this as a possible alternative, if we were to cover it with the tarp, it will at least keep it waterproof and keep the family dry.

(Soundbite of construction)

BEAUBIEN: And residents at this camp may get some sort of a house much sooner than people in many other camps across the city. This month, Concern started replacing the tents at Tabarre Issa with simple wood-frame structures.

Mr. FIDDES: And prefabrication all takes place in this warehouse.

BEAUBIEN: Fiddes says, at this point, they've finished 25 transitional shelters, but eventually, they plan to build 1,200 here and in the surrounding community.

(Soundbite of construction)

BEAUBIEN: On the edge of the camp, a cement truck is pouring a foundation for one of the houses. These are barebones cabins. They don't have running water or kitchens or electricity, but they do have self-composting toilets.

Fiddes says each house costs about $3,000. Technically, these structures are transitional housing and are only supposed to last two or three years.

Mr. FIDDES: I think if you and I come back here in 10 years - I hate to say it - people will still be living in these houses.

BEAUBIEN: This is because Fiddes says these houses are solid, but it's also due to the incredibly slow pace of the recovery. More than eight months after the earthquake pounded the Haitian capital, much of Port-au-Prince is still covered in rubble. The streets have been cleared. Some buildings have been demolished but most have not.

The quake killed more than 200,000 people and left one and a half million homeless. It's unclear how many survivors have moved out of the city or back into buildings that were damaged in January. What is clear is that the more than 1,000 camps across greater Port-au-Prince are still teeming with people.

Adam Fysh is the Port-au-Prince coordinator for the Shelter Cluster, which is a sort of clearinghouse for the 70-odd relief agencies that build or distribute shelters. Fysh says construction is being held back right now not by the slow pace of the cleanup but by questions over land ownership.

Mr. ADAM FYSH (Coordinator, Shelter Cluster): I mean, I know that the rubble removal is very slow. I know that it's going to take, at current pace, an extremely long time to remove all the rubble. But were at a pace right now of transitional shelter construction that is more hampered by ownership.

BEAUBIEN: Haiti had very poor land title records even before the quake, and many of the documents that did exist were destroyed in the disaster.

Fysh says most aid agencies won't put a transitional shelter on a plot of land if it's unclear who actually owns the property.

Mr. FYSH: The agencies that are trying to work on the kind of land-ownership, land-settlement question have already found the low-hanging fruit. That is they've already found the people with clear ownership documents. They've already constructed transitional shelters in the free and available public land.

BEAUBIEN: He predicts that in the coming months, it's going to be increasingly difficult to find places to put transitional shelters. And thus, the hundreds of thousands of people still in tents and camps will probably stay there even longer.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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