Tents, canvas or a jail cell as rain falls in Haiti

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Too few tents and too much rain, even though the rainy season has yet to begin in earnest. In Haiti there are still major problems providing aid to the people made homeless by the earthquake of 12 January. Many people are soaked to the skin when it rains. Those lucky enough to have a tent often do not know where to pitch it in the overcrowded capital Port-au-Prince.
"Maybe you can find one tent? It would be so good. Maybe one?", asks a young man living in the street in Port-au-Prince. He has stretched some lengths of cloth between a tree and a car in which other people are sleeping. A little further along, other more fortunate souls do have a tent, which they have mounted on a self-made platform around thirty centimetres high so that the rain water can run under it.
The rain has been falling with increasing frequency in recent weeks, especially at night.
Sheets of canvas
Around 50 days after Haiti’s earthquake disaster, many people are still without a tent. And the United Nations has abandoned the idea that everyone will get one. The UN says sheets of canvas are better: they are harder wearing and take up less space. "I think the simple truth is that there are not 200,000 tents in the world that are ready to go," admits a UN spokesman. "These things need to be produced."
But there are nowhere near enough sheets of blue canvas to supply everyone either.
In the meantime, an increasing number of arguments are being heard against setting up tent camps on a large scale. It is seen as being better for people to return to their own neighbourhoods and to set up their tents or huts there. "But first the rubble needs to be cleared," says one resident of a tent camp that has been established on a golf course in the hills of the capital, once the exclusive preserve of the wealthier Haitians. "If we have people to accommodate us, we can move somewhere else. But until then we just stay here."
For the time being, the tent camps are the preferred abode of many inhabitants, explains Niek de Goeij of the Catholic Relief Services. During the showers it becomes very clear who still has a roof over their head. "You see many people return home when it starts to rain. Those people are living in the tent camps out of fear. They are worried that their homes might not be structurally sound. Besides, in the camps they also receive support in the form of food, water and sanitation."
Behind bars
The indignation at the lack of tents is starting to increase. The anger sometimes reaches such a pitch that the police are forced to intervene. Once such incident occurred in Petit-Goâve, a town west of the capital. A woman who lost her two daughters in the earthquake is sitting in a prison cell. Gripping the bars with both hands, she tells her story. "I was in a tent, but the local authority decided I wasn’t entitled to one. When they tried to take it away from me, I shouted and cursed at the police commissioner." Her voice grows louder and then she bursts into tears. A number of male prisoners look on from another cell.

Outside, the rain clouds start to gather once again.