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Taking shelter into their own hands

Haiti, January 18, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    People are starting to build their on temporary shelter out of wood they break off trees with their bare hands. They use their hands to dig holes for poles and then rocks to pound the poles into the ground. Tablecloths and bed sheets are used for the material for the shelter. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

As people emerge from the emotional shock of losing their homes, families along the roadside are starting to take the question of shelter into their own hands.

They start by breaking off tree limbs -- with their bare hands, since they don't have any tools -- and using them as poles. They use their hands to dig holes for limbs, and then pound the poles into the ground using rocks. Tablecloths and bedsheets are used for the material for the roof and walls.

They're an example of the creativity and resilience of Haitian families. But of course they're woefully inadequate -- which is why we were pleased to see progress today on a UN plan to set up tented camps for earthquake survivors. Camps will not only provide healthier, more secure shelter for homeless families, but it will also make it easier for them to receive aid. It's much easier for humanitarian agencies like Mercy Corps to conduct safe, well-coordinated and fair distributions of relief items in managed camps than in the streets.