Haitian slums set to expand

2010-01-24 11:30

Port-au-Prince - Skinning the occasional cat for food and still living on the street, many residents of the devastated Haitian capital are building new homes with strips of wood and rusty pieces of metal.

Their work is set to multiply Port-au-Prince's already sprawling slums, transforming makeshift refugee camps across sports grounds and wasteland.

At the far end of a spread of sheets and string in the Parc La Paix sports stadium, survivors of the massive January 12 earthquake hammer nails into clumsy structures.

"Each person builds his own house," said 50-year-old Pierre Felio, hammering a wooden frame.

"We picked up the materials in the street. My house isn't finished yet but I sleep on a mattress here for now."

Several naked people washed with buckets of soapy water in a corner of former bleachers, as the camp stretched out across the dusty field.

Many inhabitants said they previously lived in stone houses in an area nearby, but those collapsed when the 7.0-strength quake shook large parts of the Caribbean nation.

'We have nothing'

In another corner of the stadium, 21-year-old Nichama Theodor tidied the inside of a roofless shack as her five-year-old daughter played by her side.

"We have to get it finished before it starts raining," Theodor said, after the UN warned that the rainy season was about to begin, potentially causing further problems for survivors.

"I don't know how we'll keep going because I have no money," added the fluent French speaker who said she wanted to become a nurse.

Elsewhere in the camp, many concentrated on basic necessities.

Two men skinned a cat next to one tent, preparing to feed it to their families.

"We have nothing at all," said one of their wives, Guillaulaine Elly, 35, sitting on the ground next to her two daughters.

"But we don't want to leave the capital, our family is here."

As the assistance effort gained pace in parts of Port-au-Prince and the worst-affected towns of Jacmel and Leogane, a huge relocation of survivors out of the capital was underway.

Around one million people were left homeless amid the rubble, the interior ministry has estimated.

But residents at the stadium, and also a nearby site where corrugated iron structures were springing up, said they had no desire to leave Port-au-Prince despite not yet having received food or water from numerous foreign aid groups here.

'I want to stay here'

"A friend lent me a bit of money to build a new house," said 28-year-old technology student Ouewtener Homann.

"I was born in the capital and I want to stay here. I'd prefer to stay here, even if I die here," Homann said.

Among the grey mass of iron shacks, one bright blue structure stood out.

It had a rug and a little furniture inside and 23-year-old Celeste Bruno put the finishing touches on a wooden door he found in the street.

"It's the first house I've ever built," Bruno said. "If I find the material for it, I'll build more for other people."