Yesterday however, Reuters reported that USAID is supporting a program referred to as “Thinking outside the tent,” which would “reinforce the existing makeshift shelters with solid building materials and recycled rubble.” Today the New York Times reports that aid organizations are beginning to “de-emphasize tents in favor of do-it-yourself housing with tarpaulins at first, followed by lumber.” The NYT adds that this represents “an emerging consensus.” The plans are based on relief efforts from Sri Lanka, where “residents using building materials and design guidelines from aid groups built 56,000 transitional shelters in seven months, housing 92 percent of the displaced families in about a 550-mile area.” The difference is that in Haiti we are talking about nearly a million people, and the time frame is much shorter. As one Haitian told the NYT “If they come step by step and they really do come, O.K.,” he said. “But I don’t know. If not, I want a tent.”
These apparent contradictions in just a matter of days add to the urgency of providing shelter for the estimated 1 million Haitians displaced or homeless. It is clear that better coordination and prioritization of shelter is needed. Without proper shelter the rainy season is sure to create a new wave of humanitarian emergencies with hundreds of thousands of people living in make-shift camps. The lack of sanitation is another problem that much be addressed along with shelter. As numerous health officials have warned, the chance of disease is extremely high in post-earthquake Haiti. The World Health Organization for instance has warned that “the risk of epidemics breaking out in earthquake-devastated Haiti is increasing as the rainy season approaches.” WHO has already noted an increase in diarrhea, measles and tetanus. Without adequate shelter and sanitation the rainy season is sure to cause even more preventable deaths.