Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Still No Shelter

New York Times Editorial
June 8, 2010

The only thing that seems to be moving relentlessly ahead in Haiti is the weather, with punishing heat and near-daily thunderstorms settling in for the summer — and the hurricane season that just begun. Meanwhile, more than a million people are still displaced, many in tent cities with little protection from the storms. And Haiti’s government has no clear strategy to get them out of the camps and into more secure shelter any time soon.

The problem is appallingly clear in Corail-Cesse Lesse. It is a new camp about 10 miles north of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, and is home to about 5,000 people rescued from the grounds of the Petionville golf club. It is destined to house many thousands more. A joint project of the Haitian government, the United Nations, the United States and several private aid groups, it is supposed to be a model camp, an answer to the chaotic peril of the tent cities. President René Préval visited in April to welcome the newcomers.

It is a barren, sweltering gravel plain. Unlike the unplanned tent cities around the capital, it has somewhat sturdier (though not hurricane-proof) tents, decent drainage and sanitation. What it doesn’t have is adequate employment for its residents. It is too far to walk to Port-au-Prince and too expensive to commute there. Aid workers say that tensions among idle, frustrated residents are boiling, making security a growing concern.

The Haitian government gave relief organizations like Oxfam, World Vision and the American Refugee Committee only a few days’ notice to get the camp running and seems to have given no thought to what people would do with themselves once they got there. Aid groups are now struggling mightily to make do — cobbling together food, sanitation and cash-for-work programs while trying not to step on one another.

Corail is nobody’s idea of a long-term solution. And it is only one example among many of disastrously poor planning. A recent report from National Public Radio described another camp — this one built by the Haitian government — of 500 tents near the site of the capital’s old military airport. The reporter found it mostly empty, battered tents flapping in the wind, guarded and waiting for a refugee influx that has not yet been arranged. The Times visited in March, when the tents were being erected. It’s hard to believe that they are still unoccupied.

With all the attention to Haiti’s problems and the vast outpouring of generosity, it is intolerable that so many Haitians still have no safe place to live. Mr. Préval and his government urgently need to do better. So do Haiti’s backers in Washington and at the United Nations.

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