Haiti to relocate 400,000 homeless outside capital


Haiti is planning to house 400,000 earthquake survivors in new tented villages outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, officials have announced.

Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said 100,000 people would initially be sent to 10 settlements near the suburb of Croix Des Bouquets.

He gave no timeframe, but said the moves would start as soon as possible.

An estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless by the 7.0-magnitude quake, which killed as many as 200,000.

At least 75,000 bodies have so far been buried in mass graves, the government has said. Many more remain uncollected in the streets.

Improvised shelters

On Thursday, Mr Bien-Aime said public buses had already been sent out to take survivors in Port-au-Prince to the south and north of the country, where tented settlements able to accommodate 10,000 people each would eventually be built.

“The government has made available to people free transportation. A large operation is taking place,” he told reporters.

At least 500,000 people are currently living outdoors in 447 improvised camps in Port-au-Prince, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Of the 350 settlements assessed by the IOM, its partners and the Haitian government, only 179 had improvised shelter material and tents, and only three had access to potable water, the IOM said.

The Geneva-based UN body said it was distributing tents, blankets and plastic sheeting provided by the US, Japan and Turkey, but warned that more permanent shelter would soon be needed.

“Tents will not work in May when the long rainy season begins and later when hurricane season starts, but at this point there is not much choice,” said IOM Chief of Mission Vincent Houver.

“Assessments must take place and best construction methods and durable materials need to be discussed,” he added.

Seaport reopens

In a bid to deliver greater quantities of aid, the US military is now operating at four airports in the area – Port-au-Prince and Jacmel in Haiti, and San Isidro and Barahona in the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

The head of US Southern Command, Gen Douglas Fraser, said 1,400 flights were on a waiting list for landing slots at Port-au-Prince’s airport, which can handle 120 to 140 flights a day. The airport, which is under US military control, has only one 2,900m (9,600ft) runway.

The US military is currently giving the “highest priority” to shipments of water donations to help meet the “overwhelming” need for water.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said five of its planes carrying a total of 77 tonnes of medical and relief supplies have been turned away in the past week. Only one has been able to land.

The US Coast Guard has meanwhile partially reopened the capital’s main sea port, which should improve the rate at which aid supplies get into Haiti. Three vessels had docked by Thursday morning.

Much of the port was destroyed by the earthquake, but engineers have decided some parts of one pier are strong enough to handle limited amounts of cargo.

However, correspondents say the aid that has so far arrived at the port is being driven for 45 minutes across the city to the airport, where it is piling up and not being distributed to those who need it.

The US and UN World Food Programme insist the distribution of food and water is well under way, but the BBC’s Adam Mynott in Port-au-Prince says many people have still seen no international relief at all.

An official from the mayor’s office in the suburb of Petionville said he understood the logistics involved in distributing aid had slowed the process down, but warned that many people were now very hungry and increasingly angry.

Some shops and markets have re-opened in the capital, although a BBC correspondent says food prices have risen sharply, so many people cannot afford to buy anything.

Doctors are warning that many survivors have wounds that have gone untreated for nine days, putting them at risk of infection and disease.

“The next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in overcrowded camps with poor or nonexistent sanitation,” said Dr Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for MSF.

The World Bank has meanwhile announced that it is waiving any payments on Haiti’s debt for the next five years and trying to find a way to cancel it altogether. Haiti owes the institution $38m (£23m).

A temporary branch of the Central Bank of Haiti (RBH) was opened on Thursday in the offices of a construction company in Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of people queued to withdraw cash for the first time since the earthquake, under extremely tight security.