In a country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and which has just suffered one of the worst natural disasters in recent history with hundreds of thousands of people homeless, the move to resettle 400,000 to refugee camps outside the city may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Authorities are worried about sanitation and disease outbreaks in makeshift settlements like the one on the city's central Champs de Mars plaza, said Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval.That's just the tip of the iceberg as there are several times that number who are homeless or living in substandard housing. This is a major concern since we're just a few months from the start of hurricane season, and the potential for severe storms hitting the region could lead to additional deaths, devastation and disease unless key infrastructure is in place.
"The Champ de Mars is no place for 1,000 or 10,000 people," Longchamp told The Associated Press. "They are going to be going to places where they will have at least some adequate facilities."
He said buses would start moving people within a week to 10 days, once new camps are ready. Brazilian U.N. peacekeepers were already leveling land in the suburb of Croix des Bouquets for a new tent city, the Geneva-based intergovernmental International Organization for Migration reported Thursday.
The hundreds of thousands whose homes were destroyed in the Jan. 12 quake had settled in more than 200 open spaces around the city, the lucky ones securing tents for their families, but most living under the tropical sun on blankets, on plastic sheets or under tarpaulins strung between tree limbs.
The announcement came as search-and-rescue teams packed their dogs and gear Thursday, with hopes almost gone of finding any more alive in the ruins. The focus shifted to keeping injured survivors alive, fending off epidemics and getting help to the hundreds of homeless still suffering.
Phase two would involve contracting with companies to rebuild with assistance from the displaced Haitians. Emergency search and rescue crews are starting to pack up since the likelihood of finding survivors grows more remote with each passing day and the grim work of recovering remains can be done by others.
And for all the aid pouring into the country, distributing it to those in need is still problematic.
Meanwhile, the US is using Guantanamo Bay as a central hub for relief efforts, and the US is looking at other ways to utilize its facilities. The US is in the process of clearing a disused runway to prepare it for additional airlift capabilities so helicopters can use it for the less than 200 mile trip to Haiti. A series of tents have already been erected to house up to 10,000 people. Those are temporary measures; a long term process of rebuilding has to lead to significant improvements in the Haitian infrastructure.
Amazingly, the AP reports that a woman was rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building alive after 10 days.Yet, the situation remains grim for survivors; hundreds of thousands have fled the city, while many of those who remained are being directed to new refugee camps being erected on the outskirts of the city becuse of a fear of the spread of disease in the impromptu camps set up amid the ruins that lack potable water or sewers.
Meanwhile, this report suggests that the worry over the spread of diseases from the remains of the dead that have yet to be buried may be overblown, though there is a realization that with so many dead, it is impractical to hold the bodies for identification when they can start decomposing and become unrecognizable within 24 hours in the tropical heat.
Meanwhile, via Facebook, the USS Carl Vinson has posted photos of their relief efforts.
With so much death and devastation, it's good to know that there are some uplifting stories to report - the first Haitian baby was born aboard the USNS Comfort today. The USS Bunker Hill is providing relief to one of the Haitian islands near the epicenter of the disaster. Many Haitians from Port au Prince had fled to the island and have overwhelmed the services there. LCACs (US air cushioned craft) are bringing supplies ashore in Western Haiti.
As I've noted previously, rebuilding Haiti means more than just rebuilding buildings. So while housing and sanitation remain critical needs, institutions need to be built - and rebuilt.