PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Nearly two months after Haiti’s earthquake a shocking number of people lack shelter because aid groups are slow to deliver tents and tarpaulins, the international medical relief organization Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Friday.
The result is a loss of human dignity and the potential for misery and disease will increase when the rainy season arrives in April, said Colette Gadenne, emergency coordinator in Haiti for MSF.
“I was in camps where people have had absolutely nothing. They didn’t receive tarpaulins and tents and they weren’t even on the list (for deliveries),” Gadenne told Reuters.
“It’s shocking and extremely sad,” she said, adding that MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, would start distributing shelters to help speed the process.
Haiti’s earthquake struck on January 12 and killed as many as 300,000 people, according to the government, leaving large parts of the capital and other cities in ruins.
Since then, life for many people in Port-au-Prince has stabilized as systems for water and food distribution improve and commerce, business and government have restarted.
Camps are also becoming better established and many families live in tents or have replaced bedsheets used for roofing with waterproof blue tarpaulins strung between poles.
The United Nations aims to distribute shelters to all the 1.2 million people displaced from their homes by April, according to Kristen Knutson, spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
So far, 41 percent of that displaced population has received a tent of tarpaulin, she said.
“We are continuing to push things out the door as fast as possible,” Knutson said.
In the interim, tens of thousands of families are exposed to the weather. When it rained overnight on Wednesday many families got up to seek shelter and stood for hours, witnesses said.
At the same time, life in temporary camps is becoming less attractive as the immediate crisis and fear of aftershocks diminishes.
“Life is becoming very difficult in this camp. When the rainy season comes we will have lots of problems,” said Roselyne Lesil, 41, who was staying in a makeshift shelter in the Fort National neighborhood with two children.
The problem has pushed individuals and communities to seek their own housing solutions in the absence of guidance from the government or help from aid groups.
In Fort National, one of the worst hit by the quake, homeowners have set up a committee to explore their options and plan to secure the area’s perimeter and possibly start rehabilitation, said Ronald Lafalaise, 30.
Clearing rubble itself seems a herculean task in a neighborhood where the earthquake reduced a whole hillside of dwellings to debris and upended houses like toys.
At night many neighborhood residents stay in the Champs de Mars camp near the presidential palace for security, returning to check on their homes and do commerce during the day.
“People from the neighborhood really want to stay here (long term),” said Jean Sony Doralus, who was hacking at a shattered building with a sledgehammer near where his own house lay in ruins.
One priority for the government and United Nations is to move people from the most vulnerable camps and they advocate five possible solutions.
People should return to their homes if they are not too damaged, or set up shelters in the ruins of their houses, or move out of the city to live with relatives. Some 600,000 people have already done that, U.N. officials say.
Two other options, considered less desirable, are to improve the quality of the camps, thus making them more permanent, or to move camp dwellers to new sites.
Plans are laid for five new camps outside the city, but officials gave no details on where those sites were or how quickly people would be moved and the solution anyway might not be acceptable to displaced residents.
At the same time, the government says it wants to avoid anarchic development by residents seeking solutions for themselves.
“Certain people continue to build outside the established norms and it is the role of the government to be vigilant against this,” Justice Minister Paul Denis told Reuters, though it was unclear if the government could enforce its policy.
Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva, Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Beech