Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti: Summer storm floods ‘safe’ refugee camp

By Jonathan Katz and Marko Alvarez (AP), NBC News
July 12, 2010

CORAIL-CESSELESSE, Haiti — A summer storm ripped through tents and sent solar-powered streetlights crashing down at the government’s primary relocation camp for people left homeless by the January earthquake.

The storm damage on Monday, six months to the day after the disaster, intensified questions about why people were moved to the remote location from tent camps in the Haitian capital.

The Associated Press reported this week that area has been slated for major development by Haitian officials and businessmen, who are in ongoing negotiations with South Korean garment firms to build factories there.

Around 5,000 people live at the camp on the isolated desert plain of Corail-Cesselesse, some 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Port-au-Prince. They moved there in April ostensibly over fears of flooding in tent homes at the urban Petionville Club golf-course camp managed by actor Sean Penn.

It is now clear their new location is a flood plain as well. On Monday torrents of water collapsed at least 94 tents and plunged the well-appointed camp into darkness, said Georgia McPeak of the American Refugee Committee, which manages the camp.

Terrified residents fled through racing streams toward any covering they could find. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“People are not going to tolerate this situation anymore,” said a young man who only identified himself as Alphonse. “We came here and they told us that in three months we will be relocated. Six months have passed and we are still here.”

Camp Corail is notable for its amenities. Where surrounding tarp cities are perched on hillsides and at risk of gang incursions, Corail had security, lighting, latrines and ShelterBox tents billed as storm-resistant. U.S. military engineers and U.N. peacekeepers graded the soil and covered it with gravel.

But aid groups said the relocation was hasty and poorly planned. The land has no trees and is backed by barren mountains, suggesting possible flood danger.

It is also far from food markets and potential jobs. More permanent shelters were promised but have not been built.

Prior to the relocation, the government claimed the camp land and surrounding area — one-and-a-quarter times the size of Manhattan — for public use through eminent domain.

The AP has confirmed that the land under the government-run camp is owned by Nabatec Development — a consortium whose president, Gerard-Emile “Aby” Brun, was in charge of the relocation effort. The company stands to gain part of a $7 million fund the government will spend compensating landowners.

Brun was asked to step down from the position after the relocation was complete, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said.

Monday marked the six-month commemoration of the Jan. 12 quake, which destroyed most of Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities and killed a government-estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.

President Rene Preval hosted a medal ceremony at the crushed national palace to honor successes in the post-quake recovery effort. Penn was among the recipients, along with politicians, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and official of Haiti and the U.N.

During the ceremony Preval announced that the emergency phase of the recovery was over and that long-awaited reconstruction will now press forward.

Alvarez reported from Corail-Cesselesse and Katz from Port-au-Prince

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