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Life Arts

Time to Rebrand Haiti's Tent Cities as Tomas Approaches

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Headlined to H4 11/3/10

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(Originally posted here at Huffington Post)

Haiti's Potemkin village, the Camp Corail-Cesselesse relocation camp, is not safe. With the approach of Tomas, which is morphing daily from tropical storm to hurricane and back again, Haitian officials are urging the 7,850 residents of its flagship camp to evacuate and "find different locations." For those who don't know the story, Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, commander-in-chief of the Russian army in the late eighteenth century, was also the lover of Catherine the Great. Potemkin had elaborate fake villages constructed for her tours of the Ukraine and the Crimea.

The government of Haiti has no less of a love affair with foreign aid.

The rainy season peaks in October and continues through November. Erected on a desolate plain that is subject to flooding when rains come and water pours down the ravines of Mon Cabrit, or Goat Mountain, "Camp Corail" is Haiti's grand illusion, and the curtain is about to be ripped aside. Hopefully, US taxpayers and donors will take note that this cooperative venture between the Haitian government and USAID's implementing partners has been a dismal failure. Heavy rains are a way of life for Haitians, but why the Haitian government green-lighted a relocation camp in a flood zone is anyone's guess. Even if Tomas retains its current incarnation as a depression, flooding is inevitable.

In May we looked closely at the camp, discovered that the tents would not stay dry even in the smallest rainstorms, and that the people were hungry, feeling abandoned, tricked and dispossessed. No matter how white the tents, no matter how orderly the rows of stifling white nylon, Corail was nothing more than a pretty white party dress, designed to distract from the reality of life in the camps.

- by Georgianne Nienaber
Camp Corail in May

Here is some of their testimony from Corail, taken in May.

"We don't know what will happen."

"We need food, people are waiting for work."

"There is not enough light at night."

"There are stones under the tents, no mattresses, and we cannot sleep."

"I have back pain because of the stones."

"The stones put holes in the tent floors and water gets in and pushes up the tent."

"The tents shake in the wind and the stakes pull out of the ground."

"Last night we had a 6.7 wind." (comparing the wind to an earthquake)

These tents are supposed to be hurricane proof and the resident was using the metaphor of an earthquake to demonstrate how vulnerable residents felt in a thunderstorm.

"We pass out in the heat."

"They just forced us to move from Petionville camp."

"When our President Preval came to visit with VIPS he looked so weak he needed help to walk."

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online (more...)
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