Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Complicated

In this picture, the girl on the left is crying and shivering in the rain and the boy in the center is asking her what's wrong. She says her parents are not home, her tent is dark, she doesn't have any matches and is afraid of the dark.

Most of the problems in the camps are not this easy to solve. A friend's NGO was working with a camp in her community and after distributing items they did a follow up survey and found that of 110 families registered as living in the camp, only 10 families actually live there. The other 100 have homes nearby, though many are probably damaged, and keep tents in the tent camp so that they benefit from distributions. With unemployment and the lack of opportunity what it is, this is pretty understandable but it makes providing shelter to those most in need very tricky. Many NGOs and the government are using this phenomenon as an excuse for not improving conditions in the camps. And they don't want to make the camps so nice that people would rather live in camps (many are on land of somewhat high value) than in the collapsed slums where they were before. To add to the complexity, many people in the camps were renting houses that have collapsed and other rentals (along with the means to rent) are now unavailable.

I was talking to a woman today who has 7 children. Her husband died in the earthquake and their home collapsed. Because she has no resources or way to earn money, she now depends on handouts from her extended family. She is receiving a shelter from an NGO and this shelter really is going to improve her family's life. They still won't have very much food to eat or enough money to take her sick 1-year old daughter to the doctor... But, it's good for me to be reminded that despite how complicated aid is, some people's lives are being improved by it.

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