Officials Plan To Clear Debris In Next Phase Of Haiti Relief Effort

Haitian and U.N. officials on Tuesday said they planned this week to begin “decompressing” the capital of Port-au-Prince by removing rubble to make space for people to return to their homes or temporarily resettle, Reuters reports. “The ‘Debris Management Plan’ drawn up by experts from the United Nations, the United States and other countries with Haitian government officials marks the next big push by the international relief operation following major distributions of food, water and shelter materials to earthquake victims,” according to the news service.

The goal of the plan, which will use private contractors for some debris removal, is to “get people back into safe homes and businesses as quickly as possible,” U.N. officials said, Reuters writes. During the pilot stage of the plan on Tuesday, “officials were due to start the process of registering occupants” in one of the largest temporary settlements, the news service reports.

Charles Clermont, a Haitian government representative who is helping lead the plan, “said the registration and its follow-up operation would seek to identify families and where they came from, assess the habitability of their homes and, where possible allow them to return, providing them with repair materials. If a home was a total wreck, it would be demolished, but the family would be given shelter materials to reoccupy their land. Only as a third resort would people be resettled in planned camps, because foreign aid experts wanted to prevent the creation of massive long-term camps for the displaced” (Fletcher, 2/23).

On the health front, Haitian doctors are “bracing for another onslaught of patients, as emergency workers leave the country and thousands of surgeries done after the January 12 earthquake need to be redone,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Local and U.S. medical officials estimate that between 25 percent and 30 percent of surgeries done after the earthquake will need redoing to prevent additional health problems. Haiti’s weak health care system and the chaos after the earthquake meant that many surgeries weren’t done thoroughly, according to the newspaper.

“On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the U.S. is pulling its crew out of the field hospital next to [the HIV/AIDS clinic] Gheskio – the last of a handful of temporary field hospitals that were set up by U.S. health authorities. Gheskio officials originally expected the U.S. team to stay until mid-March, said [Jean “William” Pape, the founder of Gheskio], and were surprised to learn that they had to take over this week. ‘It is reflective of the confusion surrounding all of this,’ he said. Other nongovernment agencies are leaving as well. The [USNS] Comfort, a medical ship, also is phasing out patients. It has 50 patients currently, and is taking no more,” the newspaper writes.

“The shift threatens to overwhelm the medical community here. Many health-care facilities remain unusable, and new cases of diarrhea, malaria and other diseases are picking up in tent communities crammed with tens of thousands of people who lost their homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal (Dugan, 2/23).

In related news, the Miami Herald examines the need for toilets and better sanitation for earthquake survivors. “There are nowhere near enough toilets – portables, latrines or any other kind – for the tens of thousands living in the camps in and around Port-au-Prince,” the newspaper writes.

“The squalid conditions have government and relief workers worried about a potential outbreak of deadly diseases, such as diarrhea, spread by unsanitary conditions. And relief agencies scrambling to install toilets are still figuring out how to later dispose of their waste.” The article looks at how the lack of toilets could spread diseases (Mazzei, 2/24).

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