Rains Threaten More Haiti Misery

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Al-Jazeera-English

Rains Threaten More Haiti Misery

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A woman (C) builds a makeshift tent at a camp in Port-au-Prince February 18, 2010. Relief workers say the approaching wet season and the hurricane season later this year will likely add to misery for quake survivors struggling to rebuild their lives. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

The
first heavy rains have hit Haiti since last month's devastating
earthquake struck, swamping makeshift camps that house hundreds of
thousands of homeless and raising fears of landslides and disease.

The rains late on Thursday came as forecasters warned of a large
storm heading in Haiti's direction that could strike over the weekend.

More
than a million people were made homeless by the deadly January 12
quake, many of them now living in flimsy makeshift shelters that offer
little protection from heavy rains.

Relief workers say the approaching wet season and the hurricane
season later this year will likely add to misery for quake survivors
struggling to rebuild their lives.

Even before the quake Haiti often suffered badly during the rain and hurricane seasons as a result of its poor infrastructure.

In 2008 a series of storms killed more than 800 people.

Now in the capital Port-au-Prince, some 770, 000 quake survivors are
living in makeshift camps and with the onset of rains, the threat of
disease and infection poses another great challenge.

'Huge challenge'

"We have a huge challenge in terms of just providing emergency
shelter - something that we feel that if we put all of our weight
behind, as we are doing right now, we will be able (to do)," Kristen
Knutson, a spokeswoman for the UN office that is coordinating the
international relief effort, told Reuters news agency.

Thursday's deluge hit as relief officials changed strategy on dealing with quake survivors, delaying plans to build big refugee camps outside the capital.

Instead, they want the homeless to pack up their tents and return to destroyed neighbourhoods.

Gerald-Emile Brun, an architect with the Haitian government's
reconstruction committee, told Reuters that "everything has to be done
before the start of the rainy season, and we will not be able to do it".

Brun also suggested that Haitians may largely be left to fend for themselves.

Haiti meanwhile is continuing to count the economic cost of the quake.

Call to cancel debt

On Thursday the country's president, Rene Preval, said government
assessments had indicated that the disaster would cost the already poor
country up to 50 per cent of its gross domestic product.

"This earthquake... led to the deaths of 200,000 to 300,000 people and destroyed from 35 to 50 per cent of the GDP," he said.

Preval was speaking reporters after meeting Luiz Inacio Lula da
Silva, his Brazilian counterpart at a UN-Brazilian military base in
Port-au-Prince.

During his brief visit, Lula called on the international community
to cancel Haiti's debt, and officials from the two governments signed
agreements to aid Haitian farmers and schools, which were hard hit in
the quake.

According to the United Nations, 5,000 schools were damaged or
destroyed in Haiti, which was already the poorest country in the
Western Hemisphere before the catastrophe struck.

Lula also referred to a recent South American summit's pledge of
$300m in aid for Haiti, including an agreement to create a $100m fund
to help the government with immediate needs.

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