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By Mathilde Magnier, Caritas Communications Officer, Port-au-Prince
Two months after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, leaving over 200,000 people dead, shelter for the displaced has become a major issue in Haiti.
Caritas focuses on the distribution of emergency shelter kits and works on relocating relief camps out of the capital.
“Finally a tarpaulin to cover the house ! Tonight, our family will get better sleep,” said Mimose Petit.
She holds firmly onto the orange and silver plastic tarpaulin she just received from Caritas. She tries to attach it on the wooden structure that gives her shelter, her “house” as she calls it.
“However, we do not have anything to cover the floor. So when it starts to rain, as it did last night, the water comes in and floods the entire place”, she said. Desperate, she points to the pile of clothes that is barely getting dry on a tent close by.
Mimose has been living in a crowded, dusty corner of the Pétionville Club camp for two months with her husband and three children. She finds the living conditions in the camp very hard to cope with. There is not enough space, food and water. The family suffers from the precarious situation. They live on the floor, the few things they have left are spread out in the dust that has turned into mud.
“The weather changes. Climate conditions make life here always more difficult. The houses are already getting flooded but the rain season has not even started yet! We absolutely need to go on with the distribution of emergency shelter kits,” said Niek De Goej, in charge of the Pétionville Club camp for Caritas.
At the moment, Caritas is giving out kits containing tarpaulins, ropes and nails to more than 12,000 families of which almost 5,000 in the Pétionville camp. “We have to hurry because heavy rains will come. The ground will be impassable and that will make distributions impossible,” said Niek De Goej. He is looking at his vehicle, stuck since this morning in the mud on what used to be a golf course.
The Pétionville camp was found to be dangerous and unsanitary. It has been established in haste after the earthquake but is not a long-term solution.
The situation is the same in other temporary camps where more than 1.3 million displaced people have found shelter since January 12. Its inhabitants need to be relocated as soon as possible to suitable and more sustainable places. The Haitian government has already identified five temporary sites to which 100.000 displaced people are supposed to be relocated in the coming weeks.
The task remains complex and the challenges continuous.
Despite the efforts that have been made to move people away from Port-au-Prince and provide for the most urgent needs, the population of some temporary camps in the capital has risen by 10% in the last month. This has caused problems.
“We have arrived one week ago and we have still not received tarpaulins! I don’t know where my kids are going to spend the night! With the wind and the rain, everything is flying away and getting wet”, said Marie Ange Massillon, 46 years old.
She came to Pétionville because she believed that she would get more help there than at her place. She is sitting in front of her shelter made out of branches, her empty eyes staring on the wet cartons and dirty sheets that make up her roof. In Port-au-Prince’s camps, thousands of people are facing the same situation.
One fundamental question needs to be raised. How can the massive influx of refugees to the camps be managed while the people already staying there need to be relocated as soon as possible? How can you tell a completely traumatized population that it would be better if those who still have a house returned to their place? Of the 2,500 buildings that have so far been examined by the authorities, 41% were found to be safe to live in.
Caritas is playing a major role at Pétionville and Champs de Mars, two of the biggest camps in Port-au-Prince and is looking for the best possible solution. More than ever, the confederation works on a structured response in order to maintain the living conditions but also the dignity of the earthquake’s displaced people.