Correction to This Article
A credit line at the end of the article about open-air shelters in Haiti incorrectly said that staff writer David Brown contributed to the report from Washington. He reported from Haiti.

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians await shelter in makeshift camps

This gallery collects all of our photos of the crisis in Haiti, starting with the most recent images and going back to the first photos that emerged after an earthquake hit the impoverished nation Jan. 12.
By William Booth and Peter Slevin
Monday, January 25, 2010

CROIX DES BOUQUETS, HAITI -- Aid organizations struggling to shelter more than 600,000 Haitians made homeless by the earthquake said Sunday that there are only 10,000 tents in the country, and that they remain in a warehouse, relegating the population to many more nights in squalid camps and on street sidewalks.

"We have a severe shortage of tents," said Niurka Pineiro of the International Organization for Migration, the lead agency tasked with creating immediate solutions for Haitians left without a roof over their heads.

The IOM is preparing its first official tent city for 10,000 people here in the dry, flat cactus scrub west of the town of Croix des Bouquets, about 10 miles from the Port-au-Prince airport. The site is baking hot, barren, dusty and located next to a half-constructed development gone bust called Village des Antilles. The "village" was abandoned five or six years ago, according to Jean Francois Pitesse, a guard, who said, "They ran out of money." What is left is a concrete block ghost town painted in South Florida pastels, now roofless, rotting.

Relief officials say they cannot erect the tents here until they build latrines and arrange for water. According to Stevenson Brea, a man from Croix des Bouquets who showed up because he heard there might be work, the foreigners came with bulldozers, leveled the field, and then left -- three days ago. Nobody was working at the site Sunday.

A local man, who was gathering the upended tree roots at the site to make charcoal, wondered why anyone would want to live so far from the city, in the middle of a herd of goats, with no services, transportation or work.

But relief officials are planning to operate a cash-for-work program at the site, whereby the tented residents would be paid $5 a day to build their own homes -- or perhaps convert the Village of Antilles into something habitable.

Mountains of supplies are pouring into the overwhelmed airport in Port-au-Prince, but for each new crate of antibiotics or pallet of condensed milk, a new exasperating bottleneck appears.

Italy's top disaster official called the Haiti quake-relief effort "pathetic" and disorganized and compared the response to the early days after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Speaking to Italian state television from Port-au-Prince, Guido Bertolaso, Italy's civil protection chief, said what was needed was for a single international civilian coordinator to take charge and for the humanitarian effort to be demilitarized. "Unfortunately, there's this need to make a 'bella figura' before the TV cameras rather than focus on what's under the debris," he said, according to translation from the Associated Press.

He said that U.S. troops are well-meaning, but that military officers are ineffective as aid administrators. "Unfortunately, it's a massive presence, but it's not been used in the best way," said Bertolaso, who managed Italy's response to its far less destructive 2009 earthquake in the Abruzzo region.

Shelter is one of the immediate needs, and IOM officials said more tents are on the way from Japan, Dubai and the United States, yet the organization has appealed to former president Bill Clinton's foundation to help buy thousands more. The family-size tents cost $200 to $500 each.

Port-au-Prince, however, is quickly emptying out as residents scatter to the countryside. The death toll is now 150,000 and rising, based on the number of bodies it estimates were collected and buried in mass graves, said Ariel Henry, chief of staff of Haiti's Health Ministry. The government says that 150,000 to 200,000 people have migrated out of the capital, which had a population of around 2.5 million before the earthquake.

Relief experts believe these "internally displaced people" will differ significantly from those refugees created by armed conflict and many natural disasters.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company