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Originally published Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 8:23 PM

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Haiti's slow recovery adds to risks, aid officials in Northwest say

On Monday, the six-month anniversary of a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, Northwest aid officials report a slow and difficult recovery in the island nation.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Some agencies helping in Haiti

American Red Cross, 800-733-2767 or www.redcross.org

Mercy Corps, Portland, 800-852-2100 or www.mercycorps.org

Medical Teams International, Portland, 800-959-4325 or www.nwmedicalteams.org

SIGN, Richland, 509-371-1107 or www.sign-post.org

World Concern, Seattle, 800-755-5022 or www.worldconcern.org

World Vision, Federal Way, 888-511-6548 or www.worldvision.org

UNICEF, 1-800-4UNICEF or www.unicefusa.org/ haitiquake

InterAction, a coalition of U.S organizations, lists agencies and how to donate at www.interaction.org/ crisis-list/earthquake-haiti

Wyclef Jean's Haitian Yele charity, www.yele.org

International Rescue Committee, 877-REFUGEE or www.theIRC.org

Oxfam, www.oxfam.org.uk

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In January, when a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti and destroyed much of the island's national capital city, Northwest-based aid agencies were in the forefront of a massive international relief and reconstruction effort.

On Monday, the six-month anniversary of the disaster, Northwest aid officials report a slow and difficult recovery on this island nation.

Some 1.5 million people still live in tent and tarp communities that were supposed to offer temporary refuge, and the effort to get them into sturdier, transitional shelters has only just begun. Meanwhile, landowners who ceded their acreage to these camps are becoming more restless, and some want their land free from squatters.

"The threat of eviction is a very real problem right now," said Rachel Wolff, a spokeswoman for Federal Way-based World Vision. "That is a huge concern."

Northwest aid workers note that the emergency-relief efforts have helped ward off starvation and major disease outbreaks. But after the epic destruction, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere still faces huge logistical and political challenges as international aid agencies try to work with the Haitian government to identify resettlement areas and start building new transitional housing.

So far, less than 6,000 of these new structures had been built, offering enough lodging for less than 5 percent of the homeless living in tent and tarp camps. Meanwhile, the new hurricane season has arrived, and a major hit on Haiti could hammer those without sturdy shelter.

World Vision developed one of the early wood-frame prototype homes able to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. But it was redesigned after a critique from Haitians who wanted a second window and other changes. In the months ahead they hope to build about 500 of these homes in areas designated by the Haitian government for resettlement, according to Wolff.

Even as aid agencies try to move into the recovery phase, there are plenty of efforts still required to help support the tent communities.

Portland-based Mercy Corps, for example, still helps support 28 of the tent camps and has been involved in cash-for-work programs where the residents dig drainage ditches, build latrines, fill in marshy areas that support mosquitoes and make other improvements. But that effort has been complicated by uneasy landowners, who want families booted off this land rather than more projects to make life more hospitable.

"It's been difficult for us in some camps because we don't know how long people will be allowed to stay," said Lisa Hoashi of Mercy Corps.

Mercy Corps also has been trying to support a Haitian government effort to help spread out more of the population to areas outside of Port-au-Prince. Many earthquake survivors migrated to the central plateau area north of the capital city, and Mercy Corps has been offering cash grants to help families in that region who are hosting earthquake survivors who fled Port-au-Prince. Over the longer term, Mercy Corps wants to bolster the economy in that region to better support all the new arrivals.

Seattle-based World Concern has focused most of its effort in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, which also is the site of the organization's Haitian headquarters. So far, the aid group has worked with more than 2,100 people in cash-for-work efforts to rebuild homes in that area.

"The whole problem is built around letting people in the neighborhood decide what work needs to be," said David Eller, World Concern's president.

So far, more than 530 homes have been repaired, with design oversight that includes using tin roofs, rather than concrete roofs that could collapse with lethal force in another earthquake. World Concern also has brought 500 "housing kits" to Haiti to be erected in clear areas where the old homes were destroyed.

"I am pretty encouraged about where we are," Eller said. "I would like to say to the staff 'ease up,' and give them some space. But we're up against the hurricane season. Every day we don't get something done, we put more people at risk."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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