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Camp Corail: Haiti's good idea gone wrong

Photos: Is a "model" camp a ticking time bomb for cholera?

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CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS, Haiti — When the government and aid agencies opened a camp here in April, Haitians displaced by the earthquake arrived in busloads to claim a new life outside of crippled Port-au-Prince.

Pushed by the international community and blessed by the government, Camp Corail differed from the Port-au-Prince camps that formed spontaneously when Haitians flocked to whatever open land they could find and threw together makeshift homes. Corail is the country’s only “official” camp.

Residents arrived to neatly spaced hurricane-proof tents on a barren swath of earth at the foot of mountains north of the capital.

From drinking water to latrines and plans for more permanent housing, everything was planned — except for the situation here today.

The camp’s arranged tents are surrounded by tens of thousands of derelict shacks that crawl up mountainsides like ants on a hill. Squatters came to grab a piece of land, even though they’re here illegally. They constructed shacks with secondhand tarps, poached water from the bladders at Camp Corail and enrolled their children in its schools.

“We’re in God’s hands, nobody is helping us here,” said Marilande Gostine, an elderly woman living under a tattered tarp roof.

Corail was boldly promoted as the Haitian government’s solution to a key post-earthquake dilemma: how to get earthquake survivors out of camps on highway medians, public parks and private land and into a more permanent— and legal — setting.

Instead, it has quietly become a symbol of the government’s ineptitude. Squatters continue to arrive daily — as many as 100,000 live there, according to one estimate — and the government continues to ignore them.

“The people there fall outside of the humanitarian agencies’ agreement, which was to work in the camps,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organization of Migration, an aid agency that coordinates humanitarian services at the camps. “Something has to happen … and it has to be a government response.”

Repeated calls and emails to government officials requesting interviews went unanswered. “Right now, the focus is the election,” said a representative in the prime minister’s office, declining to give his name.

For the people in settlements in Croix-des-Bouquets, the Nov. 28 election reinforced feelings of abandonment. Their polling place never opened on Election Day.

“They don’t recognize us — not the organizations in the camps or the government. We don’t get any assistance,” said Cicas Glionest, a preacher who set up a Baptist church with splintering wooden planks for pews.

Glionest lives in one of three large settlements. It’s named Jerusalem, but not much is blessed. Windswept and dry, it is more Sahara than Caribbean. Jobs are as scarce as sanitation — residents defecate into holes or into bags they throw onto fields.

“It’s a cholera time bomb waiting to happen,” said Bryant Castro, of American Refugee Committee who manages services at Camp Corail. The camp’s health clinic treated its first cholera case in late November when a man from one of the neighboring settlements stumbled over.

“Some [aid groups] have decided to go do some things outside of the camp, unilaterally, but when you’re talking about cholera, you need a coordinated response and that’s not happening,” he said.

Camp Corail is a snapshot of a larger issue in post-earthquake Haiti. Humanitarian agencies rushed to deliver basic services the government could not, like drinking water and latrines to the more than 1 million left homeless. The aid groups took over the services while the decimated government rebuilt itself. More than 10 months later, the government has made little visible progress.