Rains, Flooding Threaten Haiti's Most Vulnerable

In Haiti, heavy rains are expected to begin soon, and aid groups and the government are in a race against time to move hundreds of thousands of tent-camp residents who could be at particular risk. Yet the process of relocating the quake victims has been extremely slow.

Aid groups and the government in Haiti have identified tent camps holding more than 200,000 people who could be in great danger if the residents aren't moved before seasonal heavy rains begin in the next couple of weeks.

These high-risk camps are in flood plains or directly under unstable hillsides.

Yet the process of relocating earthquake victims for a second time has been extremely slow.

On a recent day at the Petionville Club camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, people jockeyed for position in a line waiting for food that Catholic Relief Services was about to hand out.

Set in a ravine at the bottom of a golf course, the camp is made up of thousands of makeshift tents constructed out of sticks and bedsheets.

It is one of the largest encampments in Port-au-Prince — and potentially one of the most dangerous.

Romelus Reynald lives in the camp and is one of the organizers of the local refugee committee. He says that roughly 40,000 people moved to the camp after the earthquake.

He says that when it rains, the entire place turns to mud, and the heavy rains haven't arrived yet.

The camp residents must move, and Reynald says the government has a plan in place to do so. But just where it is going to move them is another question.

The United Nations has identified several sites for new camps on the edges of Port-au-Prince. But so far, only a couple of hundred families have been moved into one of those new settlements.

Marie Claudine Macena lives with seven other people at the Petionville Club camp. Her tent consists of sheets strung up on sticks, with an orange tarp tied over the top. At night, she sleeps with her children on a bed of cardboard.

"The last time it rained, it was terrible," Macena says. "We had to stand up because the water was everywhere. Maybe for the rainy season it's going to be like that. Maybe we are going to have to stand up for the whole night."

The hard rains in Haiti usually start in April.

"We're in a race against time," says Tony Banbury, the second in command of the U.N. mission in Haiti.

Banbury says the priority for the U.N. during this moment of the crisis is to get people some form of shelter and relocate those who are living in the most hazardous locations.

He says there are about 250,000 people living in "really dangerous places."

"So when the rains do come, people are going to be washed away — their tents, whatever they're living under, just washed out. Some are literally living in a dry riverbed that's going to be a raging torrent when the rains come," Banbury says.

The humanitarian response is in a frantic mode. There is no expectation that things are going to be done perfectly or that everyone is going to get a tent.

A recent U.N. memo said the goal is simply to get earthquake victims "something waterproof" to put over their shelters before the rains hit. The U.N. estimates that they've managed to do this for just over half of the families in need.

Depending on whether the rains hold off, they have a few weeks to distribute plastic sheeting to hundreds of thousands more, and try to relocate a quarter of a million people to camps that are not yet built. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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