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Temporary Haitian camp shows signs of permanence Add to ...

The one-room house came with its very own key, a shaded porch and a proper address: 101, scrawled in white chalk above the door.

When Marceline Philideau moved in on Nov. 10, she surrounded herself with relics from her previous life: a sink, a refrigerator and a television. It was a nonsensical thing to do. Her new home has neither water nor electricity, but no matter.

Her five-year-old daughter, Sabine, planted a mango tree in the front yard, on land that will never be theirs.

More than ten months after an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, making 1.3 million people - a full fifth of Haiti's population - homeless, squalid tent cities still fill every empty space in the ravaged capital.

But 15 kilometres north, on a sun-scorched plain, the homeless have begun to migrate from tattered tents into well-built shelters.

On the surface, the slow resettlement taking place in Corail feels like victory. People like Ms. Philideau, 28, who lived in a leaky tent for eight months, are finally settling into homes that feel more permanent.

Except they aren't. Corail was envisioned as a temporary shelter for 4,000 people built on borrowed land.

In the frenzied aftermath of the earthquake, the Corail model called for humanitarian agencies to work in tandem to meet people's daily needs until the Haitian government came up with a lasting solution involving housing and jobs.

The plan was championed by everyone from actor Sean Penn to U.S. military officials.

Today, however, the neat rows of tents that once comprised Corail have morphed into an unruly slum.

An estimated 120,000 squatters have seized land around the original encampment, erecting tumbledown shacks made of tarp and corrugated metal. Raw sewage flows through open ditches.

"People caught wind of this place and saw an opportunity," said Bryant Castro, the 34-year-old camp manager employed by the American Refugee Committee to oversee Corail.

"They can have all the humanitarian assistance and basically get free land," he said.

There is no water source, no jobs and no affordable transportation in Corail. The new Haiti that was supposed to rise from the rubble looks remarkably like the old one.

Corail has meanwhile emerged as the symbol of everything that's gone wrong in the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake, with international donors, aid agencies and the Haitian government implementing an ill-conceived plan with no oversight in the chaotic rush to help.

Haiti signed an executive order in March giving the government the right to seize 7,000 hectares through eminent domain. The prospect of the camp becoming permanent has raised a host of ownership issues.

Humanitarian organizations blame the Haitian government for bailing on Corail. Government officials fault international donors, saying the idea for the camp was forced on them against their will.

Caught in the middle are the nearly sixty thousand families who now live here, with no water, electricity, prospect of employment or way out.

So perhaps the most curious thing about Corail is this: Nobody actually wants to leave.

"I want to stay here forever because I don't have anywhere else to go," said Ms. Philideau, as Sabine ducked behind her skirt.

"I want my daughter to live here forever, too. It's the best home she's known," she said.

Asked how she spends her days, she replies: "Asleep."

Her feelings echoed up and down the "streets" of Corail, from the sturdy new houses and the sweltering tents where 6,500 people now live.

Rene Frenere, a 34-year-old mother of four young children, moved to Corail eight months ago from a tent shelter in Port-au-Prince.

"Here it's hot, there is endless dust and there are holes in the bottom of our tent," she complained.

Last month, she quit her job folding shirts in a Port-au-Prince factory. She earned $2.50 a day, but spent half of her wages on bus fare.

"Here they pass out food and OXFAM brings us water. We have been promised a house. If I live in Port-au-Prince, I would have to pay rent. Here it is free," she reasoned.

Ms. Philideau, for her part, felt as though she had won the lottery when camp officials called her to be interviewed for one of the first 140 homes.

She was told the house would be hers, but the land belonged to the government. She subsequently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that she barely understood.

It specified that if the government found an alternative "solution" for her, she would have to move.

She agreed, because she doesn't think it will ever happen. Neither does Mr. Castro, the manager of the camp.

"All the humanitarians are reading between the lines, thinking this place is going to be permanent," he said flatly, sitting in his office, crowded with plastic chairs and little else.

"The lack of a government position is creating a social time bomb," he said.

Alain Kamang of the International Organization for Migration disagrees: "People have to be patient so that development has a chance," he said.

But with no time frame, others say the international community should shoulder some of the responsibility for inadvertently creating the crisis of Corail.

Foreign donors have delivered less than $1-billion of the $6-billion pledged to reconstruction efforts. The Haiti Reconstruction fund is supposed to administer $508-million but has so far only received $265-million.

"Haiti doesn't have any experience in managing post-earthquake situations. I think the Haitian government has taken too much time deciding what they want to do here, but the international community is also to blame," said Jean St. Ange Darius, the mayor of Croix de Bouquet, a municipality that technically includes Corail.

His municipality had a plan dating back to the '90s to eventually develop Corail as an extension of Port-au-Prince with government-run schools, affordable housing and factories to provide jobs. The humanitarian rush to Corail has derailed that.

The camp has meanwhile become an issue in Sunday's general election, with rival candidates accusing Haitian President René Préval of mismanaging the situation.

"He has created a problem because he has put the people in a dependent situation in a place where the people can't even support themselves," Jean-Henry Ceant, a presidential candidate, told The Globe in an interview.

On Friday, a plane circled Corail dropping cards bearing a picture of Mr. Ceant, candidate No. 63, which children scrambled to collect.

"Perhaps if I become president, I can solve the problem of Corail," Mr. Ceant said.

But inside the Corail camp office Mr. Castro couldn't find anyone to distribute another set of flyers - government-printed ones showing people how to vote.

Francine Levoy, a leader from Sector 4, admonished him: "Next time you speak to the government, tell them to pay us for this. We have no work and won't do anything for free," she said.





The problems that plague Corail

Nine newly built schoolhouses were set to receive students on Oct. 11, but remain padlocked shut because the Haitian government has failed to provide teachers or salaries.

A dozen UN soldiers police the camp by day, but at 10 p.m. they leave. The Haitian national police force does not patrol the area. The UN soldiers speak Spanish and do not have translators.

There is a strategy to create a marketplace to generate jobs but without Haitian government signoff, the strategy has foundered.



Last month, the patchwork of NGOs who work in Corail became so frustrated, they sent a letter to President René Preval's office. They have not received a response.

Here are some of the solutions they've proposed to help alleviate Corail's problems:

-Expanded water supply. Deep water boreholes are being tested five kilometres from Corail, which could provide a water supply for the camp.

-Tree planting and personal gardens. Both projects are relatively easy but require a reliable water source.

-Large market construction. Market area with roof and a cement foundation, organized into stalls that could be rented out.

-Police station.

-Washing areas with cement foundations to control water runoff.

-Solar-powered lamps.

-Public, government-subsidized transportation for Corail residents to Port-au-Prince.



 

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