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By Mathilde Magnier
“Mud, mud, mud! There is mud everywhere! This place is a big mess,“ says Guylaine. Her feet are covered with mud. The rain has softened up the earth. With a dazed look, the old woman stares at what is left of her shelter, that was made of a pile of old clothes and sheets. Now, they are on the ground, in dirty water puddles that have formed all over the Pétionville Club Camp.
First torrential rains have struck Port-au-Prince in the night of March 18, flooding roads, dwellings, buildings and most of all, the many makeshift camps around the city. Since the earthquake, the capital has not seen this type of bad weather very often. The Pétionville Club is a huge golf course where almost 40,000 displaced people settled in an overcrowded makeshift camp after the earthquake. The situation in the camp is critical. It is particularly ill-adapted to face the extreme climate conditions that affect Haiti during the rain season. Epidemics and illnesses could spread.
Rain came down on the camp the whole night. It flooded away tents, had latrines spill over and knocked over other structures. With the humidity, the heat and the smell become unbearable. ”Another three storms like that and the camp will become a real swamp,” says a Caritas member, who came to evaluate the situation. “It is impossible to continue with distributions. There is too much mud. Loads could fall over and the wheelbarrows used to carry the goods would get stuck “, says Marie Mackenzie, in charge of the camp management for Caritas. “From now on, we will have to work differently. We have already identified alternative distribution points that will not get flooded as easily. But we need to act very quickly. People really need our help.”
The main roads crossing Pétionville Club have become impassable. Mud keeps the vehicles from moving or slows them down. People move forward step by step trying to avoid the puddles. Most of them are barefoot. Clothes and waste lie in the water. Pigs and dogs stray around.
“All my stocks are lost! I had bags filled with corn and peas and they either got flooded away or they will rot because of the humidity,” says Marie. She points to the wet bags on the ground scattered across the entrance to her little hut. For Marie and all the other people trying to survive on a bit of trade, the rains are a real disaster. They will make survival even more difficult. Vendors put back the products that aren’t too soaked on the shelves and let the rest dry. The others try to prepare themselves for the next rains. They are rebuilding their shelter or digging trenches around them with their bare hands.
The camp population is getting more and more upset. People feel relieved about the humanitarian association’s presence, but slogans against the government are spreading. “Thank you for being there, thank you Caritas for helping us! Our government has abandoned us! Where has the Haitian state gone?” shouts an old man, visibly stressed out by the situation.
On this day, most displaced people can only think of one option: leave the camp. “Nobody wants to live in a place like this. Life is impossible here,” explains Ernst, aged 47. The people’s willingness to leave should make it easier for the government to relocate them. Pétionville Club is at the top of the list for relocation. Five alternative locations have already been identified by the authorities. Two of them will be ready to host refugees in the coming weeks.