As Hurricane Tomas approached Haiti, authorities sent mixed messages regarding disaster preparedness efforts, and displaced Haitians in camps were told to evacuate from what had previously been held up as a “model” camp. While U.S. State Department Spokesperson P. J. Crowley told reporters at a briefing yesterday that
In and around Port-au-Prince, obviously where the earthquake damage last January was most significant, there are 400 shelters available in and around Port-au-Prince and these shelters can accommodate close to 1 million people, and we’ve been encouraging the people of Haiti to move to those shelters if they’re able in anticipation of the storm. If there is a silver lining here, it’s a very small one.
AP reported that
Officials in Haiti maintain a list of thousands of usable shelters in the capital -- often schools and churches -- but it is not being released to the public, despite pressure from international aid groups who say the information could save lives.

“We don't want people to know where these buildings are because people are going to invade and we won't have enough places for the people who really need them," [Nadia Lochard, Haiti civil protection departmental coordinator for the area that includes Port-au-Prince] said.
Meanwhile, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Imogen Wall, who called the outbreak of cholera “appalling luck” when questioned about its origins, said, “We have always said that the best way to protect people in camps is to make camps as resistant as possible to any weather. (Evacuation) doesn't make sense ... on a practical level, on a large scale.”

Added to this was many internally displaced quake survivors’ reluctance to leave their camps, considering the numbers of people that have been forcibly evicted over the past several months, including some families have been forced to relocate multiple times. AP noted the seriousness of their concerns, citing
Haitian human-rights lawyer Mario Joseph, who testified on behalf of those evicted before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this summer, said he fears the government is using the storm as an excuse to drive people off disputed land.

"I think it's going to be a time of eviction," he said. He said he has advised people who know they are at risk for floods, landslides and wind damage to stay in buildings near the camp and return to their squatters' sites as soon as possible after the storm.
As we noted yesterday, many quake survivors are calling for a moratorium on evictions, but this seems to have gone largely unnoticed by much of the foreign press.

Now, as sun readies to set, the storm has already claimed victims, but, if the latest news reports are accurate, it is fortunate that more people have not perished today, especially considering the complete lack of preparation for the eventuality of a hurricane hitting Haiti this year. While to the casual observer it may seem like – to borrow a phrase - “appalling luck” that Haiti would be hammered by a cyclone in the midst of a cholera outbreak, and in the same year as the worst earthquake the country has ever experienced, in fact Haiti has perhaps been relatively fortunate this year to have not suffered the full impact of one or more devastating hurricanes already (Haiti suffered heavy rains from Hurricane Igor in September, but was spared a direct hit). November is the end of hurricane season, and as our readers know, in recent years Haiti has been hit by enormously destructive hurricanes during the summer. As we described at the end of 2008:
In the summer of 2008, Haiti was hit by a series of successive hurricanes, with disastrous consequences, resulting in an estimated 800 deaths total, according to the UN, and leaving over a million – or one-ninth - of Haiti’s population homeless, according to [then] Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis.

These storms follow a similarly destructive season [in 2007], when over 57 people died, over 700 homes were destroyed -- more than 4,000 seriously damaged -- and “around 4,000 families [were left] in distress and 3,000 persons living in temporary shelters," according to the International Organization for Migration.
At the time, we wrote that Haiti was “still feeling the effects of Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, which resulted in over 3,000 deaths,” since reconstruction and sustainable rebuilding efforts – as well as, it seems – adequate hurricane preparedness, then also seemed to be considered “long-term projects.”

The frequency with which Haiti is battered by hurricanes is no secret, and news reports throughout 2010 have speculated on the horrors of “what-if” scenarios as reporters pondered the impact of floods and gale-force winds while standing in the middle of tent cities. The lack of planning for what to do, and to where people could be evacuated – if indeed the authorities wanted to tell them -- once a hurricane was actually miles off Haiti’s coast, is stunning.