Haiti's pressing need: rain-resistant shelter for 750,000 homeless
With the rainy season set to arrive in Haiti, aid organizers say the top priority is to bring in shelter that can withstand rain and even hurricanes. Some 750,000 people still do not have basic shelter or are crowded in with relatives and friends.
Haitians keeping one eye on the sky may be looking for the arrival of Angelina Jolie, the United Nations goodwill ambassador scheduled to visit humanitarian-aid sites in the earthquake-ravaged country on Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
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But on other days the sky-watching has more to do with worries about rainfall and Haiti’s approaching rainy season. The rains, which so far have steered clear of the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, will add to Haiti's relief effort a new layer of health and shelter challenges, say international humanitarian officials and disaster experts.
And despite the massive initial outpouring of aid from the world and the US in particular, the sheer size of the needs – coupled with a debilitated Haitian government – means that assistance is falling short, especially for shelter.
“Our concern now is that the rainy season is about to come,” says Kim Bolduc, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s deputy special representative to MINUSTAH, the UN’s stabilization force in Haiti. “The priority now is on delivering some sort of hurricane-proof shelter.”
Rain any time now
The Caribbean hurricane season does not start until June or July. But Haiti’s rainy season begins earlier, with showers heavy enough to cause landslides and to complicate rubble-removal efforts possible at any time.
The chief concern: how the rains will affect the makeshift camps where more than 500,000 Haitians have taken up emergency residence, building small huts of sheets or tarps or setting up donated tents. The camps’ precarious living and sanitation conditions will deteriorate further with regular rainfall, relief experts say.
“With the rains will come increased health and sanitation concerns,” says Ms. Bolduc, who spoke from Port-au-Prince to reporters via webcast on Monday.
Even without the rains, Haiti’s needs remain daunting four weeks after a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
• Of an estimated 1 million homeless, roughly 250,000 have received temporary or medium-term shelter. That means three-quarters of a million people are without minimal shelter or are crowding in with family members or friends.
• Sanitation remains a “weak spot” in the relief effort, experts say, with only about 1 of every 20 latrine requests filled so far. (Relief groups like Oxfam are working to remove thousands of tons of human waste and garbage from the camps before they become an extreme health hazard, but water supplies and shelters are still being affected.)