Saturday, April 10, 2010

First Haitian Families Moved To New Camps As Rains Loom And Aid Groups Criticize Government

CORAIL-CESSELESSE, HAITI — The first of 50,000 earthquake victims that officials fear are most threatened by Haiti's looming rainy season were relocated Saturday as nonprofit groups scrambled to receive them.

Adults and children living at the Petionville golf course walked up a steep hill with their belongings and climbed into buses that rumbled off to yet another temporary home.

They wore yellow wristbands that indicated their departure time and new neighborhood: Corail-Cesselesse, an extremely dry and dusty area about nine miles (15 kilometers) north of Port-au-Prince.

Among them were Elvina Serin and her four brothers, who got repeated calls from United Nations officials reminding them to leave Saturday.

"They told us we were going to have water and bathrooms and that there's going to be a school nearby," Serin said with a smile.

She is one of the 7,500 people that U.N. and U.S. officials recommended be relocated within 10 days because they are at high risk of flooding or mudslides in the makeshift camps at the Petionville golf course.

A dozen families were moved Saturday, and 250 families are scheduled to be relocated Sunday as the first of a total of 6,000 people to be shifted to the new camp over the next two weeks, according to aid groups.

"It has been a challenge because we've had less than a week to prepare," said Laura Bank, a spokeswoman for World Vision.

It is unclear where the remaining 1,500 people in high-risk areas will be moved, because there is no room for them at the Corail-Cesselesse camp, which covers nearly 11 square miles.

A lot of time was lost searching for adequate land, Liz Satow, World Vision's acting response manager, said in a statement this week.

"Now we're faced with a delicate balance to move fast for the sake of the displaced communities, but not so fast that we overlook their rights," she said.

Haiti's rainy season officially begins May 1, but scattered showers already have made people skittish, and for good reason.

The Caribbean is bracing for what some forecasts predict will be a more-active-than-usual hurricane season, and Haiti is extremely vulnerable to floods and mudslides because of widespread deforestation and erosion.

Thousands of people died during heavy rains in 2004, and some 800 people were killed in 2008 as three hurricanes and a tropical storm roared through the region.

Officials say the rush to beat the rainy season led to the hastily built camp in Corail-Cesselesse that offers minimal living conditions. Oxfam barely had time to install latrines before the first families arrived Saturday, Bank said.

Oxfam, World Vision and CARE criticized the Haitian government for its lack of planning in a joint statement.

"We realize this is an emergency relocation due to impending rains and we are moving with utmost urgency to prepare this site," said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam's operations in Haiti. "But future moves cannot be done in this last-minute fashion."

Humanitarian groups need time to ensure that people have access to food, water, toilets and safe shelter, he said.

Organizations also need time to lay gravel on the ground to prevent dust storms and flooding and to place latrines in strategic locations to ensure the safety of people, especially women and children at night, officials said.

Sexual assaults occur daily in the biggest camps for quake survivors, say aid workers who reported the rapes of two girls, ages 2 and 7, last month.

As the first 14 families arrived at Corail-Cesselesse on Saturday, U.N. bulldozers were still leveling the soil.

Minoter Dorvil, who arrived with his wife and five children, was unfazed.

He smiled as he looked around.

"We decided to come because we were uncomfortable in the other place," he said. "There were too many people and we were at risk."

Source: SFE

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