By Carrie Kahn, NPR All Things Considered
In Haiti, officials have begun relocating tens of thousands of survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake into a new planned housing site outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.
With the rainy season around the corner, the rush is on to get the most vulnerable out of flood-prone camps. But humanitarian groups say the Haitian government botched the planning of this new campsite and gave them little time to prepare.
The new site sits on a dusty and desolate area known as Corail-Cesselesse. Skinny saguaro cactuses dot the dry landscape below barren mountains stripped of all vegetation. Hundreds of white dome-shaped tents are lined up in rows on a graded plateau. They look like neatly arranged greenhouses rather than homes.
Far From Anything
It’s a nine-mile drive north of Port-au-Prince to get to the camp, but it feels like another world.
Danisse Sannon, 20, says she cried the whole long bus ride out to the new camp.
“I was crying because out here it is so far. It’s so far from where my mother lives. Even if she tried to come see me, she would have to take four buses to get here and she doesn’t have the money,” she says.
Sannon sits at the opening of her new white two-room tent. Her 16-month-old son, Sammy, clings to her. He has no clothes; his bloated stomach is scarred. Sannon says he got burned in a fire that erupted when their house collapsed in the earthquake. Her husband and brother died under the rubble.
“What I really want to do is earn enough money so I can leave here and take a bus to the countryside where my mother and family are,” she says.
Sannon brought a small basket full of food to sell. She has tiny bags of salt, bouillon cubes, chilies and dried fish. But she says once she sells everything she doesn’t know how she will restock, since it’s a long walk and several buses to get to the nearest market.
That’s one of the biggest problems facing the residents of this new camp: It’s very far from any economic activity. President Rene Preval recently toured the area and told its newest inhabitants that he hopes to bring factories there and create 30,000 jobs. But such plans could take years.
For now, new resident Louis Sainte Claudelle says he is glad his wife and three kids are no longer living in the overcrowded camp perched on the Petionville Golf Course in Port-au-Prince. At night that camp swelled to a population of 50,000 people.
Claudelle says they lived in Petionville in a tent made out of sticks and pieces of tarp. Whenever it rained, the whole thing would fill with water. He can’t imagine how it would hold up in a big storm.
Aid groups are scrambling to get as many residents as possible off the golf course before the heavy rains begin in May. The soil there is soft and is prone to slides and flooding.
Bad Model For Future Camps
The new camp in Corail-Cesselesse, which sits on 11 square miles, is slated to accommodate up to 7,500 people. It was difficult for the government to find an open space big enough, but Julie Schindall, a spokeswoman with Oxfam, says there was not enough planning and coordination done before residents were moved there.
“We don’t like the way the site was selected. It was done in a last-minute way. … [The] government had two months to prepare the site; we had one week to prepare the site,” she says.
Oxfam set up water stations, latrines and showers in the camp. Other groups provide food.
“We know that this is also only the first movement of people. There will be more. This cannot be the model for future camp resettlements,” Schindall says.
The relocation isn’t moving as fast as the government hoped. Only those who volunteer for the move will be bused out to Corail-Cesselesse; so far, about 150 families have taken them up on the offer.
But new tents go up in anticipation of more volunteers.
Claudelle, the camp resident, says now that he is there he is going to make the best of the situation.
He says after the earthquake he and his wife lost their jobs and their house — they really don’t have any better options.
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