In Haiti, lack of suitable land hampers relocation of quake victims

The Miami HeraldMarch 5, 2010 

Brazilian peacekeepers operating oversized bulldozers and tractors cleared a barren lot of overgrown weeds and debris, prepping it for its newest residents.

But after days of digging 50 feet for water, the 25-acre site in the shadow of Haiti's central mountain range was abruptly abandoned.

"There was no fresh water. The water underneath is salty," said Charles Clermont, the Haitian businessman assigned to help the quake-devastated nation figure out how to shelter more than 1.2 million displaced people.

With the looming rainy season and housing proposals coming to disaster-prone Haiti, both government officials and relief workers are in a race against nature to relocate hundreds of thousands of quake victims living in squalid camps prone to flooding. But in their fervent pursuit of rain-resistant shelter, they are finding an old problem quickly becoming a new one: lack of suitable land.

"We have the stocks to shelter a lot of people. We do not have the land to put them on. I cannot invent land," Gregg McDonald, lead coordinator for the U.N. shelter cluster said. "There are lots of discussions going on around land, and land issues. Nothing is resolved."

As the top U.S. commander in Haiti toured the Champs de Mars encampment in front of the presidential palace this week, he said solving the land issue is critical to recovery.

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