Haitian government worries temporary housing may become permanent slums

The Miami HeraldFebruary 4, 2010 

Remy Charles' new digs, a roughly five-by-five room in the Champs de Mars park, sleeps four side-by-side on the dirt floor.

The French teacher made it himself six days after an earthquake toppled his home and no government or aid agency arrived with a tent. Like many other Haitians made homeless by the Jan. 12 7.0 quake here, he scavenged through the rubble and plucked enough wood and tin to put a roof over his head in time for the spring rainy season.

Thousands of Port-au-Prince's newly destitute residents aren't waiting for the government or the United Nations. As they have for decades, they're taking matters into their own hands, cobbling shelter together from whatever's at hand.

But their self-help efforts — abetted by international aid agencies that are encouraging Haitians to build out of sturdy materials as the rainy season rapidly approaches — may complicate plans by the Haitian government to rebuild the country's capital.

Government leaders worry that scores of makeshift shacks rising from the dust of the quake will become permanent slums and frustrate plans to build a better Port-au-Prince — a fear that experts say has repeatedly been borne out by previous disasters across the world.

"We had no choice," Charles said of his new home. "The only objective of this construction is to just to get protection from the rain. I don't know how long I will be here. If nothing changes, in five years, we will still be here."

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