Displaced Haitians relocated as rain begins to flood camps

  • Sat Apr 10th, 2010 10:18pm
  • News

Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Relief organizations on Saturday began an effort to relocate Haitians in tent camps that are in danger of flooding to new camps on the perimeter of the city, part of a larger plan to decentralize the teeming capital following January’s devastating earthquake.

After a heavy rain the night before, buses carried about 100 people from a bedraggled camp on a defunct golf course to a barren field 10 miles northwest of the city.

Aid workers helped Romaine Vincent Donal, 44, load her belongings in wheelbarrows. People cheered her on as she was first up the hill to the waiting buses. She said she couldn’t wait to leave, though she didn’t know where she was going.

Five hours later, she walked across a dust-blown clearing looking for a latrine. With little rain in this part of the country, the terrain is dry and spotted with spiny shrubs and cactus. Wind constantly funnels between two mountain ranges and kicks up a talc-like dust. “I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s like a wasteland”

Dump trucks were unloading rubble and gravel to tamp down the dust. But the only thing to offer shade or shield from the wind was a handful of white tents, listing and flapping hard.

“I think they should have got things better organized before they brought us out here,” she said. “The way they were explaining it, this place was going to be great. They lied.”

Workers were still putting up latrines and tents in a very last-minute operation as the rainy season bears down on the capital.

Thousands of people in Port-au-Prince are living on dangerously steep and muddy slopes or on tidal flats that are routinely inundated. More than 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000.

While there is open land closer to the city, landowners have not been willing to give it up, according to news reports.

U.N. officials and foreign aid groups have been complaining that the Haitian government has been slow to secure new sites and sign off on relocation plans.

President Rene Preval toured the camp, called Corail Cesselesse, on Saturday with the new residents.

He said this was part of his broader reconstruction plan to free up Port-au-Prince from congestion and create new, better-designed population centers throughout the country.

“Port-au-Prince was already too crowded,” he said. “Scientists have always said this is the normal extension of Port-au-Prince.”

Why here? “Here the state has a lot of land.”