Heavy rain worsens conditions at squalid Haiti homeless camps

Saturday, February 20, 2010

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Heavy rain fell early Thursday in Haiti's capital, forcing the million people made homeless by last month's earthquake to scramble for cover and worsening conditions in squalid camps.

Those living in the camps began digging small trenches around their tents made of blankets, scrap wood and tarpaulins because they said the water had soaked the inside of their tiny living spaces overnight.

Some also said they feared the coming heavy rain season, which typically arrives around May, as they spent Thursday washing their clothes that had been caked with mud and drying out mattresses.

“Everything was wet,” said Joseph Jean-Luc, 30, as he helped a friend build a shelter by nailing together branches at a massive tent city that used to be a country club golf course overlooking the city.

Clothes hung from rope lines all around or were spread out atop tarpaulins.

Aid officials warn conditions at the camps are already becoming a major health risk. Red Cross workers at the golf club site on Thursday filtered through the camp encouraging people to receive vaccinations that were being offered.

“That's a risk,” Jean Pierre Ollrich, who walked through the camp announcing the vaccination campaign through a bullhorn, said of the rain deteriorating sanitary conditions and causing more illness.

“We are warning people so they avoid falling ill.”

United Nations (U.N.) officials say shelter and sanitation are the two top concerns ahead of the coming rainy season.

Distribution of shelter material got off to a slow start following the massive earthquake, in part due to debate over what was the best strategy, and aid workers are now rushing to hand out tarpaulins before the heavy rains begin.

U.N. officials say only about 272,000 people have been reached with shelter materials so far following the disaster that killed more than 200,000 people.

Canadian Deputy Commanding General, Nicolas Matern, of the Haiti Joint Task Force said tarpaulin deliveries were being ramped up to try to reach all of the homeless with some form of shelter before the rainy season.

Officials are hoping to carry out a similar effort with food distribution.

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