When this is all over â€” if this is ever over â€” the world will look back on the Haitian tragedy to find an especially unpleasant admixture of sorrow and anger in the bastard creation of the Corail-Cesselesse resettlement camp.
When you’re shopping for a resettlement camp, it is so hard to pick just one.
There’s Place St. Pierre, which I first tiptoed through in February, past the old lady lying on the wet ground in a wet diaper. Place St. Pierre remains much in the same fetid state today, situated across the street from the very nice Kinam Hotel, where the well-to-do may order a very fine lunch.
There are the low-lying camps near the slums of CitÃ© Soleil, at extreme risk to floods about which authorities are suddenly very concerned. Which is worse? The camp or the slum? How does one tell the two apart?
Or how about Champs de Mars, near the National Palace, which sits stinking and overrun near 10 months after the earthquake.
With 1.3 million Haitians still homeless in the middle of a tropical storm the study options are plentiful.
But I pick Corail and yes I’m angry.
â€œWe are starting an evacuation,â€ Leonard Doyle said urgently over a crackling phone line from Corail Thursday as Tropical Storm Tomas threatened to lash its 80 km/h winds through the camp’s unanchored tents. â€œIt’s underway at the moment. We’re moving approximately 2,000 vulnerable people who are in tents. They’re going to a hospital in Croix-des-Bouquets.â€
Not happily, I might add. And who can blame them? Like pawns in an amateur chess game, destitute Haitians have been moved suddenly and sometimes seemingly at whim, this latest transmigration forced by nature, they understand, though they fear it may be a means to leave them even more rootless than before.
Hours later Doyle dismissed suggestions that the move was poorly planned and poorly co-ordinated and too obviously last minute for a hurricane threat that had been on Port-au-Prince’s radar for a week.
â€œThere was a little bit of anxiety,â€ Doyle demurred after a batch of 500 settlers had been shipped out. The community â€œdidn’t know what was happening,â€ he added, a situation apparently remedied after communication with community leaders, which one would have thought would have been job one.
By the time we spoke, Hurricane Tomas had been downgraded and all of Port-au-Prince was girding for flash floods. Rains of 25 centimetres were being forecast.
Doyle, the communications point person for the International Organization of Migration, was detailing the cleaning up of a disused hospital as a repository for the most vulnerable of the Corail settlers, the ones not lucky enough to be housed in one of Corail’s â€œfoundational shelters.â€
Understand that Corail, which sits just north of the capital, was supposed to be the â€œsafeâ€ place.
Understand that Corail was hastily chosen by the government last spring as the ideal resettlement location for those earthquake survivors who had sought shelter at the PÃ©tionville Golf Club, where the sloping grounds were assessed as fraught with risk during the rainy season.
And Corail? Corail is a forbiddingly vast, forbiddingly treeless flood plain. The floods started in July.
â€œThe site was chosen so last minute we’ve really struggled with coordination ever since,â€ says Julie Schindall at Oxfam, the organization in charge of water, sanitation and hygiene for the camp. Oxfam was given a week in early April to install facilities for the first influx of 5,000 settlers. One presidential candidate was quoted saying the site would provide a perfect captive labour force for, perhaps, a new industrial park. That those who already did have jobs had no means of commuting to Port-au-Prince wasn’t factored in to the equation.
Schindall was at Corail on Thursday. â€œThere’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of tension. There’s a lack of trust. They say, over and over, what’s going to become of us?â€
And these, mind, are the â€œsettledâ€ refugees.
The horizon that stretches out from Corail through the â€œinformallyâ€ settled camps that include Canaan and Jerusalem are a different story. â€œThe people there are being instructed to move to safer areas,â€ said Doyle, referring to insistent government broadcast advisories and SMS messages being sent out via cellphone to warn people of the tropical storm. â€œSo far they’re not doing it. We cannot evacuate people unless requested by the government.â€
Naturally, they don’t want to budge. Under President RenÃ© PrÃ©val’s decree of eminent domain, passed last March, the settlers believe they own their little patches of scrub on which they have placed the frailest of structures.
It would not take much of a wind to blow many of those houses down.
As for the settlers by CitÃ© Soleil, Doyle says their instructions are to move to higher ground. â€œSo far they’re not following that advice.â€
Where are they to move to exactly?
Little wonder Haitians are digging in their heels, waiting. After all, 10 months later, no one has bothered to answer that essential question: â€œWhat’s going to become of us?â€