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Camp Corail: Haiti's good idea gone wrong

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

“Oxfam went there to provide water and sanitation to the camp. Now there’s this tremendous need outside the camp where we can’t provide services,” said Julie Schindall, a spokeswoman for Oxfam. "With a disease like cholera, it’s well-known that it will spread from those areas where there are no services to areas that are served.”

Cholera had killed more than 1,817 people by Nov. 30, about six weeks after the outbreak began. Health agencies estimate the bacteria could sicken as many as 650,000 people in coming months.

The most vulnerable areas are those without regular access to clean drinking water and sanitation, like Jerusalem.

Castro said he warned the United Nations’ top humanitarian officer, Nigel Fisher, and government ministries directly and raised the issue at a “cluster” meeting, which brings together workers from various aid groups in an effort to coordinate the humanitarian response. He’s received no response.

Requests to interview Fisher went unanswered.

Corail-Cesselesse, as the area is known, was supposed to be the answer to the post-earthquake misery, not another headache.

Back in March, a ruined Port-au-Prince was filled with tent cities teeming with the more than 1 million people left homeless by the January quake that killed at least 230,000. Rubble and collapsed buildings marked nearly every street.

Going home was impossible for residents, the majority of whom rented. Houses were damaged and rents had tripled in some cases. Donors pledged millions with the expectation that new homes could be built.

Land to put those shelters on, however, was hard to come by. Enter Corail: untouched land between the Caribbean Sea and the mountains about 10 miles north of Port-au-Prince.

The location was less than ideal. It sits on a flood plain and the closest stores are 30 minutes away by public transportation, residents said. Aid groups had little opportunity to voice concerns. They were given 48 hours notice that the move was happening.

About 6,000 residents were selected from the spontaneous camp that had formed on the Petionville Golf Course in Port-au-Prince. Sean Penn's humanitarian organization manages the camp.

The residents were moved into tents, with plans to soon move them to houses of plywood and concrete floors that could last several years. Aid agencies World Vision and the International Organization of Migration were charged with building the shelters, but by the time they began squatters had occupied zones where the homes were to be built.

Now there’s only space for 2,114 of the houses, Castro said.

“The government did nothing to control the land and prohibit it from being occupied,” he said.

The government charged Gerard-Emile Brun, an architect and developer who goes by “Aby,” with overseeing the relocation. He also owns much of the land.

“Home is here now, but the only problem is that we don’t have any money or jobs,” said Rodrigue Polinis, a father of two who was moved to a tent from the Sean Penn camp in April.

Polinis picks up occasional work driving a truck but it’s nothing steady. He’s raising pigeons and growing squash outside his tent but “when there’s no money, there’s no food.”

Polinis said unemployment, the lack of space at schools and the long line at water spigots are the camp’s biggest concerns.

“We don’t have any other places to get water,” said Elaine Fostin, who lives roughly 200 meters from the camp and sends her children and grandchildren to fill plastic buckets.

The humanitarian agencies are powerless because they have to provide services to everyone equally.

The camp has become a magnet of sorts, Castro said, that provides the services that keep attracting new residents to the settlements.

“We’re getting very close to violating the do-no-harm principle,” he said. “More people are arriving every day. You’re looking at potentially the next slums of Port-au-Prince.”

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