PORT-AU-PRINCE (AlertNet) - Survivors of Haiti's January 2010 earthquake fear that their precarious living conditions are making them more vulnerable to extreme weather like storms, as well as longer-term climate change.
Experts are concerned that the quake-hit nation is in no position to tackle the growing threat from global warming, which could bring more intense hurricanes to the Caribbean region.
"I've noticed the climate changing in Haiti since 1986, and since then, there have been dangerous storms and hurricanes," says Yvelt Chery, an expert with the Centre National de Meteorologie (national meteorology centre).
"It's very clear...because it's supposed to be the dry season now, but it rains every night and this is causing lots of problems."
Increasingly heavy rains linked to climate change are a threat to food production, because they will wash away crops and prevent farmers planting on flooded land, Chery adds. Around two-thirds of Haitians scrape a meagre living from agriculture.
Absolu Lajoie, 27, a stone-breaker who lives in a makeshift shelter in the Cite Soleil slum area of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, says he has no choice but to grab his important papers and run whenever bad weather hits.
"The water always gets into my tent, and when it's windy, my tent flaps around," he says. "There are four of us in the tent and I'm really worried about the extreme weather.
"I've been here since the earthquake and this the worst time I've known in my life. If my country were able to take care of things, I would not be that frightened," Lajoie adds.
FEW FORESTS, LITTLE PLANNING
Each year, Haiti braces itself for the Atlantic hurricane season, which often wreaks havoc on people, livestock and farms. In August and September 2008, four large storms swept across the impoverished nation, killing hundreds of people and destroying half the crops under cultivation.
The country has become even more exposed to hazards, including heavy rains and earthquakes, because there are few regulations to stop people cutting down trees or building in risky areas.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), forest covers just two percent of Haiti’s land, leaving it exposed to soil erosion and flooding. And around 85 percent of watersheds - a crucial source of water for households and crops, and a buffer against flooding - have fallen into disrepair.
Meteorologist Chery warns that, in the wake of the huge 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, Haiti remains highly unprepared for additional disasters. The government should alert people to the dangers of living in places at risk of landslides and flooding, he adds.
Joelle Fontilus, director of the Port-au-Prince city hall, says planning controls in many parts of the island nation - including Saint-Marc, La Saline, Grande Saline, Artibonite and Port-au-Prince - should be tightened.
The threat has been exacerbated by rubble from the quake falling into drains, canals and the sea, raising water levels, explains Fontilus. "When it rains, many places are flooded, so if the situation gets worse the country will be completely devastated," she warns.
Given the lack of action by the government and international community, all the mayor's office can do is campaign to make people more aware of the risks they face, especially those living in the worst conditions in tents, she says.
Around 680,000 people are still sheltering in camps in quake-affected areas, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), down from nearly 1.54 million at the height of the crisis.
The IOM says it is doing what it can with limited resources to help Haitians reduce the risk of disasters such as flooding from storms.
IOM staff are providing information to people in the 800 to 900 camps it supports, and have distributed kits and medical supplies to help people deal with hazards, according to Bradley Mellicker, an emergency preparedness and response officer for the inter-governmental agency.
“We also have teams in different parts of the country giving people assistance so they can face major environmental problems,” he says.
For example, many parts of Port-au-Prince, such as Martissan and Cite Soleil, are full of garbage that has been washed down from denuded slopes by rainfall run-off.
“One important aim of our project is to plant trees and grass to keep water on the mountains and in higher places just to minimise the risks,” Mellicker explains.
Other measures planned by the IOM include cleaning out canals, erecting evacuation shelters to accommodate people when extreme weather hits, and removing rubble from the sea to lower the water level.
Yet for those families who have yet to move into adequate housing more than a year after the earthquake, it takes very little - just a bout of heavy rain or strong winds - to tip their lives back into crisis.
Student Mislene Valius, 22, lives 30 metres from a canal in Vallé de Bourdon in the Haitian capital. “When it rains, I have to go up on the roof or the hill to avoid being struck by disaster," she says. "My worries are growing more and more because my country can't take care of this situation."
Dorvil Sonson, a 47-year-old carpenter, says his family no longer gets visitors since the quake forced them to move to a tent city above a ravine in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince.
"I live in a tent with my wife and three children, and you know it's a risk living here, because if there's a landslide we'll be among the victims," he says.
"When I listen to the news, I hear that many countries are suffering from disaster. But my country can't take anymore after the...earthquake."
If the Haitian government and international aid agencies fail to step up efforts to protect vulnerable people like these, they will continue to lurch from one disaster to the next, leaving them ever more exposed to the future impacts of climate change.
Jean Daniel Delone is a Haitian freelance journalist based in Port-au-Prince.