Tent cities planned as aid groups weigh rebuilding in Haiti

January 23rd, 2010 - 11:19 am ICT by IANS  

By Anne K Walters
Washington, Jan 23 (DPA) The hundreds of thousands of people sleeping in the streets in the wake of a magnitude-7 earthquake could find homes in tent cities being planned by the Haitian government.

Shelter for the homeless of Port-au-Prince and other cities is a chief concern of international governments and aid groups but will pose massive challenges to rebuild much of the country from the ground up.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, while those with means were fleeing the capital Port-au-Prince, hundreds of thousands of the country’s poor were “camping out in squares, sports fields and other open areas transformed into makeshift camps”.

Aid efforts have been hampered by the impact of the quake, which struck the Caribbean country Jan 12, compounding the pre-existing state of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Aid agencies and governments stress that rebuilding will take time and must focus both on getting people quickly into shelter as well as on long-term solutions.

“Shelter strategies do not end with a tent,” said Vincent Houver of the International Organization for Migration in Haiti. “Tents are a short-term solution; we cannot expect people to stay in them forever. Homes need to be rebuilt.”

The Haitian government has proposed tent cities outside of Port-au-Prince to house many of the displaced, and in one suburb Brazilian peacekeepers have begun clearing land for a camp.

The efforts could eventually house many of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in more than 500 make-shift settlements that have sprung up around the capital, the International Organization for Migration said.

The UN is looking at a variety of options to provide shelters and settlements, and the US is working with them on a variety of options, said Tim Callahan, who heads disaster response teams on the ground in Haiti for the US Agency for International Development.

Non-governmental organization Habitat for Humanity, which focuses on building housing for the poor, plans to help with three phases of shelter, first providing kits with basic materials such as tarpaulins and rope, next with cleanup and salvaging of materials, and finally with building transitional shelter.

The existing housing before the earthquake was already poorly constructed, lacking steel reinforcement and not anchored to a foundation, Habitat for Humanity said.

According to the UN, the primary reasons for the scale of the destruction in Haiti were “construction on unstable land and collapsing buildings”.

The rebuilding will offer an opportunity to improve construction standards. Haiti is to be rebuilt in a safer manner, to help prevent or contain future disasters, a UN agency said Friday.

“We shall continue working with the Haitian government and other partners to help rebuild a safer Haiti,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, UN special envoy for reducing disaster-related risk.

Mike Brandpied, an expert on earthquake hazards at the US Geological Survey (USGS), said long-term dangers must considered in rebuilding Haiti, because the new buildings will likely be shaken within their construction lifetime, “and we need to make sure they don’t fall down and hurt people”.

The USGS said it has documented at least four previous earthquakes in Haiti of magnitude 7 or greater, including those in 1751 and 1770 “that destroyed Port-au-Prince”.

In the short term, aid groups stressed that any temporary housing must be close enough to Port-au-Prince and other population centres to allow people to participate in reconstruction efforts.

“All reports from the ground show quite a devastation in Port-au-Prince so it will take a while to clear the rubble,” said Mike Carscaddon, Habitat’s vice president for international operations.

“We want to move as quickly as possible from tarps and tents into more transitional housing and then core homes.”

He said it is preferable to keep people on the actual site of their homes, near their livelihoods and the people they know.

Haiti’s rebuilding effort will be slowed by the logistics of getting supplies into Port-au-Prince, where the sea port was damaged and the lone runway at the airport has been in high demand from both military, government and aid agencies.

Even under ideal circumstances, people will likely be stuck in temporary shelter for extended periods.

One year after the May 2008 quake that struck China’s Sichuan province, many residents were still waiting for permanent housing, jobs and even official death tolls. Some 87,000 people were killed or went missing in the magnitude 7.9 quake.

As of May 2009, work had begun on 40 percent of new urban homes and only 9 percent had been completed.

Days after the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Italy April 6, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that the 40,000 homeless - most of whom where at that staged housed in tent shelters or in hotels - would be back in “proper houses”, by the end of the year.

In November, people began leaving the tent camps and moving into hundreds of new apartments. By the end of January around 20,000 are expected to accommodated in new housing, however another 20,000 - most of them staying in hotels, with relatives or in second homes - are still awaiting permanent housing. More than 300 people were

killed in that quake.

At least 75,000 people are confirmed dead in Haiti’s 7-magnitude quake, but estimates have the final toll between 100,000-200,000. More than 1 million people remain homeless.

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