Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Haiti's Camp from Hell

Alex Wynter, a good friend of HDEO (check out his great posts on Albinism and Rwanda) has been working for us in Haiti for most of the last months since the earthquake struck. He has been regularly doing media interviews and posting stories. Alex is now en route out of Haiti for a well-deserved break - here is one of his latest and one of his best stories from Britzon Camp 6 otherwise known as the camp from hell. Photos from colleague José Manuel Jiméniz. 

Many quake camps in Haiti are unpleasant because they’re next to rubbish dumps; or dangerous for being on flood plains or at the foot of unstable slopes; or isolated and possibly forgotten for being in the middle of nowhere or buried at the end of side streets. 

But for sheer hellish living conditions nothing beats this place: Camp Bizoton 6, Route Raille.
“I’ve worked in at least 35 camps now, and none was anywhere near as bad as this,” says Jens Poul Madsen, team leader of the International Federation's Danish Red Cross relief emergency response unit, which has just done an assessment there and now plans to expedite a distribution.

Madsen, by common consent one of the most experienced and determined of the relief delegates who have worked in Haiti, uses his words advisedly.
 (Photo: A mother and child in their shelter at Haiti’s Bizoton 6 camp. The backs of the shelters face the eastbound side, their fronts the westbound).

The Bizoton 6 “camp” consists of a single file of shacks nearly a kilometre long on the central reservation of Route Raille – the busy coastal highway leading west out of Port-au-Prince.

Tyres and stones

The front of the shelters face the westbound side; their backs the eastbound.

The quake-affected residents – 965 of them according to the local committee – have placed tyres and stones on the road to force traffic to stay a couple of metres from their doors.

Even just standing outside one of the shelters is an ordeal.

Every truck that roars past spews dust and diesel exhaust right into the doors and windows. Should any vehicle linger, it’s immediately blasted forward by a cacophony of horns – standard practice in the Haitian capital.

It’s difficult to talk and – many residents say – impossible to sleep. The combination of noise, dirt, heat, fumes and stress is overwhelming.

Every trip to the toilets involves darting through the traffic. As does any trip anywhere for that matter.

“Last resort”

Parents are permanently terrified for their children, choosing simply to lock them in the shelters for much of the time.

Occasionally, they’re run down, like nine-year-old Emmanuela Mondesir was recently; she had a lucky escape, losing only a front tooth after she was knocked onto her face.

“For three days after the quake we looked for somewhere to take refuge,” says Luma Ludger, 30, the head of the Bizoton 6 camp committee.

“There was no open space at all, so in the end on 16 January we came here. It was a last resort.

“Now the camp is actually growing again. People who’ve been evicted from other quake sites are coming here.” The central strip is packed with shelters from one end to the other.

Clearly the Bizoton 6 residents need to be moved as urgently as any quake-affected people in Haiti. But asked what their most urgent daily needs are, Ludger says only, “protection from the rains”, which are intensifying, and “a safe place for children”.

“There’s just no peace,” says 31-year-old Jean Kempez, yelling above the tyre roar he and his neighbours live with round the clock.


“We live like animals,” he says, with considerable understatement as there is no developed country in which animals could legally be kept in the conditions that prevail at Bizoton 6.

Pierre Betty, 26, says that last week a car left the road and demolished a shelter that was mercifully empty at the time. “People just ran in all directions, but thank God no one was killed.”

Somewhat miraculously the camp from hell has retained a sense of community, even though there is no place to gather safely; people wander up and down the line of shacks dodging cars and trucks to meet and talk.

“My husband would like to find a job that would pay enough for us to be able to leave this place,” says Judith Sinnew, 38, who shows off the huge scar covering much of her calf muscle from the messy fracture she suffered in the quake.

What can be done?


“The first priority is to get them some proper family supplies,” says Jens Poul Madsen, “but we don’t want to provide full shelter kits because these people have to move from here – it’s just too dangerous to stay.

“The logistics of distribution will be very difficult,” he adds. “We can’t stop the traffic or assemble beneficiaries near their homes, so we’ll have to find some neutral territory where we can set up.”

Bizoton 6, it has to be said, slipped through the humanitarian net. Anyone who’s been working in Haiti for any length of time will have driven past it at some point.

Yet even here, in this nightmarish place, people smile, are welcoming to outsiders, and patient with each other.

In Bizoton 6, probably not for the first time, the foreign aid worker cannot but wonder: surely the equanimity of the Haitian people must be deceptive?

ps: this post originally appeared on ifrc.org with more photos - for some reason blogger won't let me post more than one photo here - gotta find a new blog platform methinks, too many glitches /PC

1 comment:

  1. I remember driving past that "camp" on the way to Leogane. How awful to realise it's still there.

    Paul, have you tried copying and pasting the code for the pics? works for me.