The UN will move 8,000 Haitians out of a makeshift camp to a new site almost three months after a huge quake ravaged the country, officials said Wednesday, but many more remain at risk as the rainy season approaches.
In a race against the time, people left homeless by the January 12 earthquake will be moved from the Petionville golf club, which is prone to mudslides and flooding, to a new location 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.
The first few hundred of the 8,000 will be transferred on Saturday in a bid to get people rehoused in safer accommodation before the start of the rainy season in the stricken Caribbean nation.
“Everything is in place to receive the first persons Saturday,” said France Hurtubise, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Their tents or their plastic huts are in places which are at risk of flooding or landslides.”
The new site, which the UN says will eventually be able to house as many as 250,000 people, is called Corail and stands on 7,500 hectares (18,000 acres) of land to the north of the devastated capital Port-au-Prince
UN officials have identified seven “high risk” camps that could be in peril during the rainy season followed by the hurricane season.
An estimated 1.3 million people were left homeless by the deadly 7.0-magnitude earthquake which leveled parts of the capital, where hundreds of thousands of people still live in some 460 makeshift camps.
The transfers will take place by bus overseen by UN peacekeepers working with the MINUSTAH mission, while personal effects will be transported by trucks to the new site.
At the new site, those who survived the devastating quake which killed some 220,000 people will be given ready-to-walk into tents, large shelters made out of wood and poles, showers and toilets as well as different services, such as health offices, provided by various non-government organizations.
There is even a school at the Corail site, although it has not been officially recognized by the Haitian government.
Haitian authorities do not want to “take the risk that the camp becomes permanent,” a UN source said, asking to remain anonymous.
The World Food Program is also planning to distribute seed kits so that those left destitute by the quake can plant some vegetable plots.
UN officials have set April 15 as the target date to try and relocate some 38,000 living in seven high-risk camps. Moving them to an alternative site is considered the final option after encouraging them to return to their damaged homes or stay with host families.
Heavy rains only bring new misery, with the homeless left wading through the water, amid fears that disease could quickly spread. The first heavy rains will be quickly followed by the hurricane season beginning early June.
“If just one child gets measles, there will be an epidemic in the camp,” said Anne Chateaulain, coordinator for the emergency hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers.
Most officials fear that a new catastrophe could strike Haiti at any moment.
“There is a high risk of a tragedy if we don’t move these sites… we will just have to hope that the rainy season will not be as bad as it has been in the past,” said Hurtubise.
The head of the Medecins Sans Frontiers mission in Haiti, Salha Issoufou, said that “there could be big problems, especially for those people who have no shelter today, and given that the city is still being cleaned up.”
The situation is even more worrying as increasing numbers of people are leaving the slums to move closer to the makeshift camps and take advantage of the services offered by international organizations.