I recently had the chance to go on a helicopter flight with MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti. I have never been on a helicopter before, so the I was obviously extremely excited about the possibility, particularly since we were going to fly in one of the old Huey’s with doors open. And I’m telling you – this has been so much fun!
But of course there was also a real, proper reason for why I was going on that flight. We wanted to get a better idea of the different camps and the scale and number of the camps. Looking at data and looking at maps is one thing, but actually seeing it from above is quite another. We also wanted to get a better idea of how many tents have tarpaulins on top and how many don’t. The assumption being that tents with tarps on tops are probably leaking and have reached the end of their lifespan.
Combined with assessments on the ground this allowed our technical advisors to calculate that approximately 40 per cent of all tents that have been given out since January have to be replaced already, i.e. around 28.000. Sadly, what the technical experts have been saying since the beginning has proven to be true – while tents look better, plastic sheeting aka tarpaulins last longer.
Haitian market values tarps higher than tents
Of course, not all tents are equal. While travelling around Leogane the other day, we saw some excellent tents from the Italian ministry of civil defence. However, these cost around 800 USD each, more than half as much as a transitional shelter.
Most tents in Haiti are not of this quality, though. And I’m getting slightly tired of people saying “why don’t you just buy a 50 USD tent at Wal-Mart?” The answer is: Because they are crap! And Haitians know that. One of my colleagues visited the markets a while ago to see how much tents and tarpaulins cost. He found that while tents could be bought quite cheaply – and for much less money than it cost to buy and ship them – tarpaulins had retained or even increased in value. In fact, two good quality tarpaulins can cost more than a hiking tent!
Too much rain
Of course neither a tent nor a tarp is a good or even adequate solution for the hurricane season. I’m currently in Santo Domingo, where it has been pouring for two days straight. I just hope that a lot of rain in the Dominican Republic means there’ll be less water in the clouds to come down over Port-au-Prince. Because if it rains like this in Port-au-Prince, the situation in the camps will be catastrophic.