Haiti earthquake diary: The quest for temporary housing

The Haitian government aims to provide temporary shelter for each of the more than 1 million made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake, but given the pace of the aid delivery so far, that goal seems lofty.

By , Correspondent

Saturday, January 30

The Haitian government wants to get everyone in temporary shelters by March 1. An honorable goal, to which I say: "Good luck with that."

To date, the Office of Internal Migration and its partners have delivered more than 6,000 tarps, 1,948 tents, 800 shelter kits, 3,345 items of plastic sheeting, and 400 shelter boxes, each containing a 10-person tent, blankets, water purifiers, mosquito nets, tools, a stove, kitchen equipment, and materials for children to some 36,000 people.

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A good start, but barely enough to equip a small metropolitan neighborhood. There are more than one million Haitians left homeless after the Jan. 12 quake flattened the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other towns and cities in the south and west of the country.

More numbers: the shelter "cluster" (the aid groups responsible for shelter) has some 9,290 tarpaulins, 7,295 tents, and 11,940 items plastic sheeting in stock with a further 57,320 tarpaulins, 50,720 tents, 32,912 items of plastic sheeting expected to in the coming days.

Great start, but barely enough.

Every single day, makeshift camps are surfacing. Sorting through the rubble and debris, men and children find wood to pound into the unsettled ground to stake out a new life.

There may seem to be no particular order to life in the camps, but there is. On the vast grounds of the once prestigious St. Louis Gonzajue campus, residents have grouped themselves according to where they lived before the quake, so small neighborhoods still exist, just in another form.

Cancoule Milton is the "secretary general" of one of the groups organizing inside the Mais Gate neighborhood, across from the airport. He's part of the "civilian protection" for the residents of the area, acting to prevent violence and theft. Not that there's much to steal, because here, like in most camps, he says that aid distribution is a major problem.

“There is a large percentage of people who get nothing, and a small percentage who get everything,” he says.

Creating some semblance of order for the delivery of food and water and doesn’t seem like rocket science. But distribution continues to be a challenge here.

Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said international aid is failing to meet its earliest goals. The UN World Food Program, along with several others, had hoped to feed 1 million by the end of last week: on Friday the number stood at only 600,000.

I just worry that the longer it takes to get people in tents, the longer it takes to get them supplies, the shorter their fuse – and the greater chances for violence.

There’s only so much people can take.

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