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Story by Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet Special to The Gazette
LÉOGÂNE – Twenty trailers designed to serve as hurricane shelters as well as classrooms in Haiti appear to be unfit for use as either.
The trailers, built by Clayton Homes in the United States and funded by the Clinton Foundation, are neither “hurricane-proof” nor decent places for children to learn because of incredible heat, unsatisfactory sanitation facilities, lack of ventilation, leaks, mould and, in one case, high levels of formaldehyde, according to an investigative report first published in the New York City-based Nation magazine on July 11, supported by the Nation Institute Investigative Fund, the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting and The Gazette. The project also failed to live up to its local job-creation objectives and did not properly consult the community, say local officials.
The Clinton Foundation responded to the report immediately: Chief operating officer Laura Graham told the Associated Press on July 12 that the foundation is looking into possible health and safety concerns raised by the investigation.
Since then, The Gazette has made repeated requests to interview several members of the Clinton Foundation about what concrete steps are being taken to fix the pre-fab trailers; they did not respond.
The classroom/shelters were installed at four locations where schools were destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake, between October 2010 and January 2011.
Philippe Joseph, the official in charge of civil protection in Léogâne, said Wednesday: “To this day, I am not aware that any experts have visited Léogâne to evaluate the Clinton Foundation’s work.
“They have done nothing until now, though we’re in the middle of the cyclone season. … Can we really place people in these (trailers) for three or four days without access to toilets at a time when cholera is on the rise? This situation is very serious.”
At its very first meeting, on June 17, 2010, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission approved an ambitious project for emergency hurricane shelters. Proposed and financed by IHRC co-chair Bill Clinton’s own foundation, the project was to construct “hurricane-proof” emergency shelters that could also serve as schools to provide Haitian schoolchildren “a decent place to learn.”
However, problems raised by some structural engineers interviewed cast doubt on whether the Clinton Foundation’s new emergency shelters, which were used this year as classrooms for more than 1,000 Haitian schoolchildren, are really “hurricane-proof.”
Garry Conille, Clinton’s chief of staff at the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, told The Gazette that the new trailer classrooms “would never meet the standards for school building” under Haitian or international regulations. But Conille emphasized that the foundation’s decision-making on the project took place in a context of great urgency, with the advent of the 2010 hurricane season, when 1.5 million people were still living in tent camps.
The trailers are made of pressure-treated wood and were built specifically for the Clinton Foundation project in Léogâne. Most of the 4.9-by-12-metre trailers, which have no system of ventilation other than windows, are now filled with rows of dozens of school desks. Despite the pungent new-smelling chemical odour, mould from humidity and leaking accumulates in the window frames and at least one trailer has started to rot, with gaping holes in the walls.
And some of the children are getting sick.