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Haiti: camp dwellers in the eye of the storm

Posted by Oxfam

24th Aug 2012

Friday 24 August 2012 at 3.07pm: strong winds and intermittent rains accompanying the tropical storm are battering the south coast of the country. In Port-au-Prince the light breeze is considered with apprehension, with people fearing that it will be replaced by violent winds in the next few hours.

There are 18,000 Haitians currently living in the Club de Golf camp in Pétionville where Oxfam worked to provide water after the 2010 earthquake, - immediately after the earthquake there were 65,000 inhabitants. At the very least, the inhabitants are sceptical about the future of this vast golf course, transformed into a refugee camp for thousands of survivors of an unanounced catastrophe. "I listened to the information about the cyclone on the radio", explained Kerline Vincent in a clear voice, with her 18 month old son on her knees, gazing at the fridge in which her husband stores cold drinks for sale.

The temperature has gone down a little, along with the demand for drinks. "We haven't been able to take any precautions [against the storm] owing to a lack of money", complained the 24-year-old mother. However, she admits being conscious of the risks because, in July, a tree was knocked down by a strong wind, falling straight on to various shops. "We have lived through very difficult times because of bad weather since we have been living here, we will manage once again", she says hopefully and with resignation.

Preparations for the emergency
Next door, Kerline's neighbours are engaged in feverish activity. There are constant toings and froings to the water point and the people living beside the river try to identify what could cause a tragedy if there's wind, rain or both at once.

Oxfam transferred the maintenance of the water and sanitation systems in the camps to water management committees which now work to maintain hygiene conditions. For many of them, this emergency will be a test of their capacities and operations.

Suddenly a 50-year-old called Eliphete Guervil arrives carrying a megaphone. He is a volunteer with the organisation tasked with the management of the camp. His message is clear and simple. "If you are located in areas at risk, you must leave", he shouts, undeterred by the unconcerned faces of the onlookers.

He informs them that a place has been set aside for old people, children, women and the disabled. "Surveillance has been arranged. There will be volunteers in various places tonight carrying a whistle and a torch who will comb the camp even if it's raining", he explains remembering his training as a rescue worker.

In spite of everything, Kerline does not feel any safer. She and 390,000 displaced people from the 600 tented "towns" which remain after the catastrophe, are exposed to risks of flooding, landslides and an increase in cholera, something that will only further aggravate the situation.

Oxfam on alert

For this reason, Oxfam has set emergency measures in motion in order to face every eventuality. The organisation is preparing materials for shelter, drinking water and hygiene kits in case they are needed, as well as public information campaigns to help prevent the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

"Disaster preparedness and the capacity to respond in Haiti has improved since the earthquake, but there is still a lot to do to protect the poorest people so that they can withstand the devastating effects of a hurricane", said Andrew Pugh, Director Oxfam Haiti.

For the moment, everything is up and running and ready for action.

Blog post written by Oxfam

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