Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Week in, Haitians Are Still Hungry

One Week in, Haitians Are Still Hungry

By Michael Deibert

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, at 11:34 AM ET


(Read the original article here)

LEOGANE, Haiti—When Elvis Cineus rushed to his home in the town of Leogane, 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince, in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake, he was not prepared for what awaited him.

Under the remains of his home, smashed flat as if pummeled by a giant fist, lay the bodies of his wife, his nephew, his cousin, and a friend, all dead. His 1-year-old son was dangling from the building's jagged facade, injured but alive.

"It was a miracle," he says of the infant's survival. "But I think there are still survivors in the fallen schools, because we still hear them screaming."

This coastal town, once one of the most pleasant in Haiti, was largely decimated by the quake. The International Federation of Red Cross estimates that as much as 90 percent of the town has been destroyed.

Along Leogane's Grand Rue, once-stately concrete buildings lie in rubble, with only a few structures built in Haiti's distinctive wooden gingerbread style remaining. The putrid smell of death wafts through the lanes, helped along by an ocean breeze.

At a ruined dental clinic, a woman cries when she tells how a neighbor died after her leg was severed by falling debris and how the neighbor's child, a little girl, took off screaming down the street.

"It's beyond chaos, beyond catastrophe," says Michael Moscoso, a local businessman. "The losses cannot be numbered."

One week after the earthquake flattened large swaths of central Port-au-Prince, people beyond the capital and closer to the epicenter have grown ever more desperate as much-promised aid has been slow to trickle in or has failed to materialize altogether.

In the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in the capital's southern Carrefour neighborhood, several hundred people lay on makeshift surgical tables, on benches, or sprawled on the floor. Half a dozen people groaned with severe suppurating burn wounds caused when a gas cylinder exploded during the great tremor. Nine-year-old Michel St. Franc lay with blood caking his face, his leg in a primitive cast and tears in his eyes.

"This is the worst situation I've ever seen," says Julien Mattar, project coordinator for the hospital. "We have huge needs in terms of human resources, medical supplies, and materials."

Mattar tells me that a supply plane that was unable to land in Port-au-Prince was instead rerouted to the Dominican Republic. From there, the supplies made the seven-hour overland journey to Haiti.

The injured who were able to reach the hospital were the lucky ones. Farther down the road, both the living and the dead waited for respite in the form of assistance from the international community or from the government of Haitian President René Préval, who has faced withering criticism at home for his perceived lax and disorganized response to the disaster.

Along the Route des Rails, almost every home seemed to have been destroyed, and, again, the intense smell of decay intensified under a glaring Caribbean sun. Residents say they feel abandoned.

"No one has ever been here," Vilaire Elise, a 38-year-old Protestant minister, said as he led a visitor and fellow residents to survey homes where his neighbors had died. "We have no water to drink, nor food to eat. We are suffering here."

Though nearly 105,000 food rations and 20,000 tents had been distributed by humanitarian groups on Monday, the effort seemed unable to come to grips with the scale of the disaster. The U.N. World Food Program has said it will need 100 million prepared meals over the next 30 days.

The growing foreign military presence in Haiti, which has played host to a U.N. peacekeeping mission since 2004 and will now house at least 2,000 U.S. troops, also seemed overwhelmed.

Late on Monday, with the sun setting outside Leogane, in a scene reminiscent of others played out in severely war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 1,500 townsfolk rendered homeless by the quake took over a flat patch of grassy land and constructed fragile shelters from logs, twigs, bed sheets, and leaves.

"Since the disaster, everyone here has had nothing," said Innocent Wilson, a 31-year-old who acts as one of the impromptu camp's spokesmen. "No one is here to help us, so we are organizing ourselves."

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.


Anonymous said...

I am so angry with the Haitian government. There has not been any leadership in Haiti for decades; those who seek government positions are opportunists. The elected politicians do not possess the global knowledge, education, experience, strength, or cognitive skills to govern. Throughout this current crisis, I saw no one from the government talking to the people, giving them a sense of hope, prosperity or guidance. I do not know much about Preval, but I feel outraged by his lack of compassion. He should have climbed on top of a car with a bullhorn and talk to the people. The president should have been out there removing bodies with the rest of his countrymen. He could have delegated leaders or select residents to count bodies, others to write names of missing people and some reporting to a central location to give information. He could have encouraged the people to organize their neighborhoods, form tasks groups and give them responsibility. It is evident a lot of people wanted to help and did so by performing rescues using their bear hands, but with no sense of direction. Preval did not demonstrate any patriotism, leadership or compassion. In time of despair an elected president has to take the lead and command. Preval was nowhere to be found. His only statement was, in reference to his house being damaged and having nowhere to sleep. He is a disgrace for Haitians and the human race. I hope he is not allowed to continue as president

Honorine said...

Notre collectif s'est monté spontanément suite au tremblement de terre qui a eu lieu le 12 janvier 2010. Il est composé de parents à qui des enfants haïtiens (de toutes les crêches) avaient été attribués avant la catastrophe et qui souhaitent que le gouvernement français prenne les mesures adéquates pour l'évacuation de ces enfants, en lien avec les autorités haïtiennes.