Haiti quake survivors fight over shelter materials

Haiti quake survivors fight over shelter materials

Haitian earthquake victims traded blows and wrestled on Friday over plastic shelter materials being urgently distributed by authorities to improve flimsy survivors' camps before the onset of rains, Reuters reported.

More than five weeks after the magnitude 7 earthquake that reduced parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, to rubble, Haiti's government and its foreign aid partners say providing shelter for the more than 1 million left homeless by the quake has become the top priority.

Some downpours this month heralding the start of the rainy season in mid-March have added urgency to the need to improve shelter conditions for hundreds of thousands of quake victims camped out across the capital. The January 12 earthquake killed more than 212,000 people.

At the Culture Ministry, a government handout of packaged synthetic shelter material triggered fights between residents of a nearby sprawling survivors' encampment that carpets a square in front of the damaged presidential palace.

The yelling survivors scuffled, wrestled and exchanged blows over the packages, scattering only when armed police moved in to break up the fights. One man was pushed over in the melee, broke his leg and was carried off by bystanders.

In another fracas outside the Plaza Hotel near the same square, men threatened each other with chunks of masonry from the quake ruins as they noisily disputed the ownership of a compressed package of plastic tarpaulin.

Haiti's government, which has appealed for tents and tarpaulins from donors, is discussing with aid partners how to tackle the huge task of trying to clear an estimated 63 million tons of quake rubble from the ruined city.

USAID says it is rushing in thousands of rolls of plastic sheeting to give more effective shelter to the survivors before the coming rains turn their makeshift camps into muddy quagmires, raising the risk of disease.

Acting U.N. mission chief Edmond Mulet has said that not even the U.S. and Canadian militaries or the U.N. Brazilian army contingent helping the relief effort in Haiti have sufficient heavy equipment there to shift all the rubble. He has suggested specialized private companies be brought in.

Haitian businessman Charles Clermont, who is part of an urban recovery commission tackling the shelter, housing and rubble removal problem, said foreign relief experts had told him the Haiti earthquake was one of the most complex disaster situations ever seen in modern times.

He said the government could not afford to wait months for a solution, but needed action in the coming weeks.

Working with international aid partners, the U.S. military and United Nations plan to bring in tents, plastic sheeting and portable toilets as part of a multi-pronged strategy to provide better shelter to survivors and "decompress" affected zones of the city by starting to clear some of the rubble.

Experts says some victims may be relocated to improved camps, while others will be given materials to build temporary shelters or even repair their quake-damaged homes.

"Even if their house is damaged, you can help them make a temporary shelter in their own homes," Clermont said.

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