By Patrick Markey and Patricia Zengerle
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti could start relocating nearly half a million homeless earthquake survivors from its ruined capital this week, the government said on Monday, as foreign donors mapped out a long-term rebuilding plan.
Authorities have said they are looking to relocate at least 400,000 survivors — now sheltering in more than 400 sprawling makeshift camps across the wrecked city — in temporary refugee settlements, initially tent villages, outside Port-au-Prince.
“We have to evacuate the streets and relocate the people. That is the most important for us,” Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue told Reuters. “We hope we will be able to start at the end of the week.
Health Minister Alex Larsen said 1 million Haitians had been displaced from their homes in the Port-au-Prince area. The government had tents for 400,000 to be used in the new, temporary settlements, but would need more.
Almost daily aftershocks have shaken the shattered coastal capital since the January 12 quake that killed up to 200,000, raising the possibility the city eventually might have to be rebuilt on a safer location, away from dangerous geological fault lines.
Nearly two weeks after the massive magnitude-7.0 quake demolished swaths of Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities, a huge U.S.-led international relief operation is struggling to feed, house and care for hundreds of thousands of hungry, homeless survivors, many of them injured.
Facing persistent complaints by desperate survivors that tons of aid flown in was not reaching them on the ground, U.S. troops, U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers have widened and intensified the distribution of food and water.
In Montreal on Monday, a Canadian-hosted meeting of foreign donors pondered how to move from immediate humanitarian relief for Haiti to long-term reconstruction of a country that even before the quake was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and others were examining debt relief and reconstruction strategies.
Bellerive told the conference Haiti needed the world to assist it for at least five to 10 years.
“The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction,” he said.
MOVE AND REBUILD THE CAPITAL?
Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the Montreal meeting that donors stood ready to help, but basic questions about the recovery strategy first needed be thrashed out.
“There’s the question, for example, of whether we’ll rebuild on the present site of Port-au-Prince,” Cannon told CBC television, saying geological fault lines had to be considered.
Haitian authorities have already said they initially plan to move, with the aid of foreign partners, a first wave of 100,000 survivors to tent villages of 10,000 each at Croix Des Bouquets, just northeast of Port-au-Prince.
Communications Minister Lassegue said the new camps would respect humanitarian regulations on size to make sure there was no violence and people were as comfortable as possible.
The Pan American Health Organization has said there has so far been no sign of a feared outbreak of contagious disease among the survivors camped out in the streets and open spaces of the rubble-strewn city.
Some of the food handouts by aid workers in the capital have turned unruly, forcing U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police to fire shots in the air to restore order.
World Food Program officials estimated some aid had reached more than two-thirds of the survivor camps.
Haiti’s government reported the number of people leaving the capital was increasing daily. More than 130,000 people have taken advantage of the government’s offer of free transportation to cities in the north and southwest.
Before the quake hit, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and several lending nations had already forgiven a great deal of Haiti’s debt, simply on the grounds of need.
Last week, Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, Dominican Republic, proposed to donors the creation of a $10 billion five-year assistance program for Haiti.
Canadian officials said the Montreal conference on Monday would not likely emerge with a total of pledged aid but rather a clearer idea of what the needs were. It also aimed to decide on the date and venue for a pledging conference.