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More Than 1 Million Homeless After Haiti Quake

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

As we just heard from Jason, the earthquake has left Haiti with a severe housing problem. Perhaps a million people have no shelter now. The International Organization for Migration is taking the lead role in solving that problem and their spokeswoman, Niurka Pineiro joins me now from Haiti. And it's been a week now since the earthquake struck. Why are there no tents set up or at least no tents on a massive scale set up to accommodate these one million or so displaced people?

Ms. NIURKA PINEIRO (Spokeswoman, International Organization for Migration): Well, the number one, you have to remember we didn't have any tents on the ground. We had some stocks of non-food items like plastic sheeting, and tarpaulins, and hygiene kits and such that we had prepositioned for the hurricane season, which was very benign last year. So, we began distributing the items that we had. An appeal was sent out on Saturday morning. We've now received millions of dollars and tents are arriving. We've received the first couple of shipments and we are in the process. But it's difficult to set up these tent camps because the government doesn't want certain locations to become permanent settlements. So we need to find places where these people can gather.

As of today, there are some three hundred spontaneous settlements all over the city, some very small, could be up to a hundred people, some have thousands of people.

BRAND: When you say spontaneous settlements, what does that mean?

Ms. PINEIRO: Spontaneous settlements basically means people are they are afraid. They don't want to go back in their homes. So, they have taken whatever piece of cloth they had, a sheet, a piece of plastic, anything and they've put it up, and entire families are living under this one sheet. So, you can imagine with the type of weather we have here - it's 90 degrees today - that this is not a solution. So we, as the lead agency for shelter are saying, okay, assessments are needed. We need to consult with the government. We need to consult with people on the ground. But we need to start delivering these tents as soon as possible.

BRAND: I guess I don't understand now what the hold up is. Because I understand in the immediate days following the earthquake that you had to assess and gather your resources and make appeals for aid, but now it's been a week. And still no massive tent encampments for these people. Where do you see the hold up?

Ms. PINEIRO: Well, the hold up is, we didn't get the tents until Sunday. The first ones came in. So, that was one hold up. You know, the second hold up is basically discussing with the government what they want to do with these people, where we want to put the tents. And what we don't want is just to give tents to people so they can set them up themselves because there needs to be some order. I mean, we're not trying to make this perfect. But, you know, people need to have then facilities where - or latrines. We have to have deliveries of food brought in. So, yes, it has been slow. We agreed to that and we're saying that we're now, you know, ready to start delivering but we cannot just do that ourselves.

BRAND: Are you waiting for the government to say, okay, you can set up your tents in this spot?

Ms. PINEIRO: I mean, we're waiting for government. We're waiting for our partners. We're trying the best that we can to get these tents out to the people. But admittedly there has been a hold up. When we've had hurricane response here in Haiti, which we've done many times, it has been different. People have been able to go to a collecting center and then eventually they go back home. Most of these people, they can never go back to that home. So, we need to find places where we can have a tent set up today but where permanent homes can also be built at the same site.

So, it's a challenge. It's not a justification of what's going on. But it is a challenge. It's chaotic. It's a mess. And hopefully we'll start doing it as soon as we get the go ahead.

BRAND: Ms. Pineiro, thank you very much.

Ms. PINEIRO: All right. Thank you.

BRAND: That's Niurka Pineiro. She is a spokeswoman with the International Organization for Migration. They are the lead agency in setting up tents in Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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