Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Pascal Fletcher
Tue Feb 23, 2010 5:15pm EST

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti's government and its foreign relief partners plan to start "decompressing" earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince by clearing rubble to allow displaced families to return home or be temporarily resettled, Haitian and U.N. officials said on Tuesday.

The plan, which will require private contractors for some of the debris removal, demolition and rebuilding, is expected to get underway this week, over six weeks after the magnitude 7 quake that shattered swathes of the sprawling, hilly capital.

In what some experts are calling the deadliest natural disaster in modern times, the January 12 Haitian quake may have killed up to 300,000 people, the country's president says, while more than a million more are homeless.

Most of these are sheltering in ramshackle encampments that cram every space of the capital, mixed in with the rubble of pancaked and collapsed buildings that lie on every side of streets clogged with people, refuse, traders and traffic.

The "Debris Management Plan" drawn up by experts from the United Nations, the United States and other countries with Haitian government officials marks the next big push by the international relief operation following major distributions of food, water and shelter materials to earthquake victims.

"The city is so crowded that there are no open spaces to put people," said Charles Clermont, a member of the Haitian government commission spearheading the city recovery plan.
"Before the rainy season, we have to take the debris out, clear the drainage canals, demolish what needs to be demolished ... that will give us the room," Clermont told Reuters.

Haiti's rainy season typically begins in late March or April.

U.N. officials said one of the plan's objectives was to "get people back into safe homes and businesses as quickly as possible," a huge challenge in a city where more than 250,000 homes and buildings have been destroyed or damaged, creating an estimated 63 million tons of rubble, according to the U.N..


The need to improve living conditions and shelter for the hundreds of thousands of quake-related homeless has been given added urgency by the onset of seasonal rains in the coming weeks, which will increase the risk of flash floods, and by rumbling aftershocks that still periodically jolt the city.

Twin aftershocks early on Tuesday, one of 4.7 magnitude, brought nervous residents and foreign hotel guests out of their beds, while terrified dogs howled in the steamy heat. Early on Monday, another 4.7 magnitude quake had shaken the capital.

In a pilot stage of the "decompression" plan later on Tuesday, officials were due to start the process of registering occupants of one of the most emblematic quake survivor camps in Port-au-Prince -- one housing 16,000-20,000 people in the Champ de Mars square alongside the ruined presidential palace.

Clermont said the registration and its follow-up operation would seek to identify families and where they came from, assess the habitability of their homes and, where possible allow them to return, providing them with repair materials.

If a home was a total wreck, it would be demolished, but the family would be given shelter materials to reoccupy their land. Only as a third resort would people be resettled in planned camps, because foreign aid experts wanted to prevent the creation of massive long-term camps for the displaced.

"Where people normally live they have systems, communities, structures. When that breaks down and you have to move them, that creates people permanently dependent on aid," said Mark Turner of the International Organization for Migration.

Clermont said private contractors would have a role to play in the rubble clearing, demolition and reconstruction but he expected contracts to be tendered by governments and institutions participating in the plan.

"Humanitarian groups are not made to rebuild a city of four million people," the IOM's Turner said.

The University of Miami, Clermont added, was offering to provide top-level urban planning experts to work with the Haitian government in its reconstruction effort.

But there were no illusions about the enormity of the task.

"Colleagues who have been working for 25 years in this business, who have done Darfur, the earthquake in Pakistan, say they have never seen anything like this," said Myrta Kaulard, the U.N. World Food Program's country director for Haiti, who added that food distribution for quake victims was being maintained.

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