The Shelters That Clinton Built | The Nation


The Shelters That Clinton Built

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Miyamoto emphasized that one of the most crucial elements for the public safety was how well the shelters' limitations were explained to the community expected to use them. "Hopefully people do understand that these windows do need to be protected if a major hurricane is expected to be coming," he said. Miyamoto said the likelihood is "really high" that the windows will break without storm shutters, and "once those window systems break," he explained, making a toppling motion with his arms, "you cannot just be in there." The roof will "pop off."


  • Paul Farmer
  • Isabel Macdonald
  • Thank you sign for Bill Clinton at the INHAC school, Leogane, Haiti

About the Author

Isabeau Doucet
Isabeau Doucet is a freelance journalist working in Port-au Prince, Haiti, where she has written for Haiti Liberte and...
Isabel Macdonald
Isabel Macdonald is a freelance journalist and former communications director of the media watch group Fairness and...

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When asked if the shelters had come with any storm shutters, Andre Hercule, director of Saint Thérèse de Darbonne elementary school, which has also received Clinton trailers, shook his head, then grabbed the nearest open trailer window and effortlessly slid it shut. Clicking it locked, he explained, "We'd close all the windows." The school director remains confident after hearing Clinton speak at a news conference in August 2010 at his school that the trailers are hurricane-proof.

Léogâne's Department of Civil Protection may also be operating on this assumption. At the Léogâne town hall, a derelict white paint-chipped building that looks stately in contrast to the seventeen-month-old tent camp nearby, DCP coordinator Philippe Joseph explained the municipality's plans for community outreach in the event of a hurricane. "We'll send scouts with megaphones and tell people to gather their papers and go to the Clinton Foundation shelters," he said as he sketched a rough map, indicating the best routes to the dual-purpose school buildings from the geographic zones most vulnerable to storms.

Asked if he believed the trailers would offer adequate protection during a hurricane, Joseph seemed taken aback: Clinton had himself said that these were hurricane-proof shelters, he said.

* * *

In a jungly field on the outskirts of Léogâne, four of the twenty Clinton classrooms sit empty at another school, Coeur de Jesus. Because of the trailers' leaky roofs, puddles form on the floor that need to be mopped up by the maintenance staff. As school director Antoine Beauvais explained, the new sixteen-by-forty-foot trailers were too bulky to fit in the cramped residential area where his school was previously located. But for lack of toilet facilities or running water provided by the foundation for the newly created remote campus, the school has been unable to use its new trailer classrooms.

When The Nation visited the site with Miyamoto, at least one strap on a trailer slated to be used as a hurricane shelter in the coming months was already loose. As Miyamoto moved the slack metal ribbon that is meant to ensure the trailer stays stable during a storm, the structural engineer remarked that these kinds of anchoring systems are liable to corrode. "You definitely want to look at it at least once a year," he said grimly.

It's unclear whether such maintenance will occur. Clayton Homes recently visited some of the schools after the International Organization for Migration, which works with the UN, raised concerns about the condition of the shelters. However, Conille said he did not know anything about plans the Clinton Foundation had made for the maintenance of the "hurricane shelters" in the longer term. The Haitian contractor who was initially hired to help install the shelters, Philippe Cinéas of AC Construction, said that neither he nor his staff were trained to service them. This raised concerns for Cinéas because, as he knew from experience, "in Haiti maintenance is always a problem."

While Clinton Foundation COO Laura Graham claims that the foundation has always been "very accessible" to the school and municipal officials in Léogâne, neither the school directors nor the civil protection coordinator had any way of getting in touch with the foundation, they told The Nation, and had to resort to going through intermediaries.

Joseph, the DCP chief for Léogâne, faults the trailer project for being decided from afar and "from the top down," like so much of Haiti relief. While the Clinton Foundation claims that it worked with local government to implement the shelter plan, Joseph disputes this. The foundation simply informed him that it was building four schools in his district, he says. "To me this is not a consultation," the local official remarked. "To consult people you have to ask them what they need and how they think it could best be implemented."

Joseph ascribes the new shelters' "infernal" heat, humidity and other problems to this lack of on-the-ground consultation. He added, with regret, that people in desperate need of employment and shelters watched as "the Clinton Foundation came in with all its specialists and equipment, but they didn't give any training." He said that "if they use a local firm they will not only create jobs in a community that has been decapitalized by the quake but they will also take into account the environmental reality on the ground."

In the proposal approved by the IHRC, the Clinton Foundation said that "up to 300 local workers would be employed to build the schools." Cinéas said there were only five to eight people hired by his firm on a very temporary basis, and the foundation declined to comment on what additional jobs were created.

Farmer, the Clinton envoy, recently published a report on trends in Haiti's dysfunctional aid system. He stressed the need for "accompaniment" to be the guiding principle of Haiti's reconstruction, with Haitians "in the driver's seat" and the international community listening to their priorities. Farmer also emphasized the importance of local procurement and job creation.

It is hard to imagine a better case study of the very opposite approach than the Clinton trailers. In response to questions about what due diligence the foundation did to ensure the safety of the trailers it purchased for use as hurricane shelters, the Clinton Foundation initially insisted that the most appropriate person to speak to was a Haitian employee of Clinton's UN Office. When Graham, the foundation's COO, finally agreed to talk about the project on the record, she denied that the foundation had been responsible for any due diligence regarding its own project, claiming that those responsible were a "panel of experts," including one point person from the foundation, Greg Milne, and representatives of other organizations. (Milne referred all questions to the foundation's press office.) The Clinton Foundation agreed to furnish documentation of who was on this panel but by press time had not done so.

Graham said that the staff of the Clinton Foundation—which has for more than a year publicized the "hurricane shelters" that "President Clinton" built in Léogâne—are "not experts" in hurricane shelter construction. She claimed the same "panel of experts" would have been responsible for due diligence to ensure air quality of the shelters whose secondary purpose was as classrooms.

Explaining Bill Clinton's rationale for the trailers, which were installed at the tail end of the 2010 hurricane season, Conille said, "It was not meant to be sustainable. It was meant because we didn't want to have dead people in September." According to Conille, Clinton was deeply troubled by what would happen to the women and children in case of a serious storm—and as the former president felt that "no one" was doing anything about the issue, he took the lead himself. Moreover, Clinton didn't want to have his new "hurricane shelters" sitting empty while schoolchildren had classes in tents, Conille added.

Yet according to Maddalena, given the high rate of formaldehyde found in one of the classrooms, and the children's headaches, "they'd be better off studying outside under a tarp."

Wall, the former OCHA spokeswoman, responded by e-mail, "We all knew that that project was misconceived from the start, a classic example of aid designed from a distance with no understanding of ground level realities or needs. It has had a predictably long and unhappy history from the start."

Even Conille largely concurred, in a telephone interview, that there were many problems with the project, saying, "It made sense at that time, and I guess someone could argue it wasn't the best idea in retrospect."

For his part, Léogâne Mayor Santos Alexis says he is still waiting for Bill Clinton to follow through on his pledge to equip Léogâne with hurricane-proof school buildings. Asked about his view on the Clinton Foundation's claims to having completed an "Emergency Hurricane Shelter Project" replete with new classrooms for his town, Alexis is defiant. "If those at the Clinton Foundation are sure it's done then they should prove it, they should show it to us, because I know nothing about it," he remarked coyly, gazing out from behind his shades. Seated at his desk in a crumbling municipal building, the mayor said he is still waiting for the real Clinton Foundation schools, "built with norms that protect people from hurricanes and flooding."


Correction: This article originally quoted IOM's Bradley Mellicker stating, "That's a lie," after the quotation from the Clinton Foundation's COO Laura Graham claiming that IOM had played a role in the procurement process for the trailers. While IOM played no role, Mellicker's statement was made in response to a claim by a different Clinton Foundation source that IOM had led the procurement process, and not in response to Laura Graham. We regret the error. The Nation understands that the Clinton Foundation and the Office of the Special Envoy looked at a list of unsolicited offers and picked a winner and that there was no public bid.

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