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UN chief sees dangers up-close in Haiti quake camp

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon came to Haiti on Sunday to offer assurances of his commitment to a post-earthquake nation that is short of shelter and suffering growing violence in teeming camps for the homeless.

Security issues and the risk of flooding and disease in the squalid tarp-and-tent cities are pressing concerns for governments and international aid groups struggling to help hundreds of thousands of victims of the Jan. 12 disaster.

On Sunday, the South Korean native made his second visit to Haiti since the magnitude-7 earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 people and left 1.3 million homeless.

“He’s made a point of going there to talk to them directly and convey his personal concern, and also to reassure them that the assistance they are expecting is still a major priority for the U.N.,” said spokesman Yves Sorokobi.

The U.N. leader is scheduled to tour a camp of more than 40,000 people and meet with President Rene Preval before returning to New York.

The camp — a tapestry of blue, orange and white tarps and tents sprawled across a valley golf course — is emblematic of the mixed results of a $2.2 billion international aid effort.

Behind the tents is a country club that became the base of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne in the days after the disaster.

Thousands of families came from their broken homes in the hills above to be near food and water distributions overseen by U.S. soldiers. Distributions, like those run by the U.N. World Food Program and others, were largely a success — though many were marred by small-scale violence and corruption by local officials.

The camp has been a hub of non-governmental organization activity, with schools, medical clinics and social programs setting up under canvas tents. But the valley is at major risk for floods and landslides when the rainy season starts in earnest next week.

And only half of Haiti’s quake homeless have received even plastic sheets to protect them from deluges.

The trouble is that they have nowhere to go. Despite two months of effort to establish government-run relocation camps on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts, not one has yet opened.

Aid groups say they are ready to build but don’t have the land. Government officials insist they are making progress on finding sites in closed-door negotiations with private landowners.

With no electricity or security, the camps are also dangerous at night, especially for women and girls at risk of sexual assault.

Ki-moon is also concerned by reports of increasing gang activity, his spokesman said. More than 5,000 prisoners fled jails that collapsed or were damaged in the temblor. Only about 200 have been captured. Two European women with the Doctors Without Borders aid group were kidnapped last week and held for five days. It was not clear if a ransom was paid.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said last week that the U.N. is  struggling to raise the final quarter of a $1.44 billion appeal to help earthquake victims this year.