Fear, confusion as Haiti tent camp shuts
Port-Au-Prince (AFP) Jan 15, 2011
Officials in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince sparked fear, confusion -- and some hope -- when they began closing down a tent camp for earthquake victims.
Evicted families sat on muddy ground in Place St Pierre, next to piles of cooking pots and bundles of clothes Friday. Around them, dozens of dirty tents standing in the square ever since the January 12, 2010 earthquake, lay folded.
Residents preparing to leave said they had been given a few hours notice and promised the equivalent of about 500 dollars per family in compensation.
However, it took officials until dark to arrive with the money, plunging these dispossessed people into deep anxiety.
"This morning they told us to take down our tent," said Jelene Dorest, who at 35 is the mother of eight children. "They promised money and we've been waiting ever since."
Although the money eventually came, Dorest said she didn't know her next step: "We don't know where we'll spend the night."
The initiative by city authorities appears to be part of tentative steps to reduce the number of people in squalid, often dangerous tent towns.
The United Nations says about 810,000 people occupy camps in the earthquake zone, which includes the capital and the most densely inhabited areas of Haiti. That figure is down from 1.5 million people six months ago and continues to fall steadily.
Initially, the camps provided emergency shelter for a population scattered by the quake, which in a few seconds killed more than 220,000 people and shattered already decrepit infrastructure.
However, camps have also turned into breeding grounds for cholera, while criminals, particularly rapists, plague the helpless inhabitants.
Jacques-Eduard Thelusma, 34, said his "dream" is to escape the Place St Pierre camp, which consists of plastic tents packed into a once attractive square in the hilly Petionville neighborhood.
But the manner in which he was being forced out left him fearful. "They kept us waiting for the money and we don't know where we'll go," he said.
Thelusma, who spoke English and French as well as his native Creole, said he has managed to find odd jobs over the last year to help feed a family of nine, including a baby that was asleep with two young girls in one of the park's flower beds.
However, he worried the 500 dollars compensation would barely be enough to begin a new life.
"You can hardly rent a one room house with that," he said.
Most of the tents jammed into the park remained up. It seemed that authorities were closing only one section at a time.
In the swath already cleared, the ground was littered with empty plastic bottles, scraps of clothing and other detritus.
Smoke from camp fires and burning garbage drifted across the families waiting to be paid.
One woman, Denese Denejou, was optimistic about the forced change.
"I'm glad about this. When we get the money we're going to move and I will use it to start a business. I'll sell cosmetics and whatever I can," Denejou, 49, said.
"I have three children and I want them out of here. This place is no good. It's horrible. We're going to have a new start."
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