Haiti relief: Anger, confusion as authorities relocate homeless

Haiti relief efforts to relocate mostly homeless people away from flood-prone areas before the rainy season are in full swing, but confusion is hampering the process.

By , Correspondent

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    Haiti relief: A boy looks at women who wait in line during a food distribution at a homeless earthquake survivors' camp in Port-au-Prince, April 12.
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As Haiti relief efforts focus on relocating citizens to higher, drier ground ahead of the rainy season, confusion about who's getting moved, where they're going, and how private land owners forced to leave will be compensated is running rampant.

Confusion varies from place to place, but in at least one area in the foothills above Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, it starts with the name.

For some, the place is called Mais 54 Caradeux. For others, Toto Camp, and yet others still, Toussaint Louverture camp, in honor of the leader of the revolution that led to Haiti’s independence.

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Regardless, the future of the 1,507 registered families living on this dusty, rolling terrain is uncertain.

About two weeks ago, government bulldozers showed up after dark and, without warning, began to level the haphazard maze of bed sheets and sticks. People grabbed what they could before their homes toppled.

Since then, more than five large patches of land on the multi-acre site have been razed. According to Joachi Thermilus, vice-president of the self appointed Mais 54 Committee, 483 tents have been destroyed. He’s not sure why and doesn’t know who to ask.

“At the very least,” he says, “someone from the government could have come to talk to us about what they were going to do.”

Lack of coordination

Lack of communication and coordination is a major problem in the already complicated process of relocating some 1.3 million people left homeless after the Jan. 12 quake. Some families have moved three, four, even five times.

Wilfrid Civile is one of them. His resources, and his energy, are depleted.

He’s been told the newly leveled plots are for the thousands of residents living on the grounds of St. Louis de Gonzague, a private school miles away.

“Fine for those people,” he said. "But what about me? They are there, and I’m here. This doesn’t make sense. We are the ones who should stay.”

Neighbor Martide Sarazen also watched her tent fall this week.

She considers herself lucky, though, because on Monday she received a yellow bracelet from the French Red Cross.

She doesn’t know why, nor what it entitles her to, but it will be more than what she has now. No non-governmental agency has delivered any kind of aid – not water, food, tents or a hygiene kit – in the Toto camp.

The French Red Cross on site refused to say what the bracelet entitled recipients to, nor would it say how many bracelets it handed out.

Downpours on the way

Other breakdowns are expected in the days to come. The rainy season officially starts May 1; hurricane season June 1.

Torrential downpours have already flooded homes, increased the number of cases of malaria, and pushed rubble and mud down hillsides, destroying precariously placed homes, such as the ones on Vallèe Bourdon, across town from Toto camp.

Access for the roughly 5,000 residents of Vallèe Bourdon is by foot only.

Residents originally signed up for relocation because they thought they were signing up for food aid. When they realized their mistake, they asked that their names be removed.

Booted out of family homes

They were then told that relocation was their last best hope; otherwise they would be forcibly booted out.

“I’m not against the relocation,” said Romelus Pierre Ronal, the elected official responsible for the area. “I’m against subtle intimidation. Some of these people have been here 30, 40, 50 years. If they have to leave, they should be justly compensated.”

That’s unlikely to happen. If they are lucky, they may get peace of mind in safer surroundings, along with two weeks worth of ready-to-eat meals. Already that’s more than the residents of Toto camp expect.

“The land question is confusing,” admits Mark South, spokesperson for the aid agencies overseeing shelter. “We need people to be sensitive to land owners but we need land owners to be sensitive to the needs of those living on their land. Land issues need to be resolved legally.”

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