Nine months after the January 12 earthquake, Haitians still have little relief. Over one and a half million left homeless continue struggling to survive, despite billions in aid raised or pledged. It’s for development, predatory NGOs, not them. That’s the problem, and they suffering as a result, little media attention paid to their plight.
On September 15, Los Angeles Times writer Joe Mozingo headlined, “No plan in sight for Haiti’s homeless,” saying:
Where to put them is contentious, reconstruction “hang(ing) on the potentially explosive issue” of who owns the land. For example, pre-quake, tenant farmers used to plant corn and sugar cane on a wealthy family’s 20-acre parcel “below the city’s main transmission lines of the Delmas 33 road.”
“Now an estimated 25,000 people call it home,” living in one of many temporary camps, poorly protected against heavy rain, severe weather or hurricanes. When security men try to evict them, they’re chased off with “rocks, sticks and machetes.”
“It’s not like we’re comfortable here,” says Katlyne Camean. “Last night when it rained, I filled three buckets of water from my house. But no one is telling us where they want us to go. I don’t want to go somewhere worse.”
They’re pitted against an indifferent government, woefully little aid, and conditions unacceptable for anyone, including inadequate food, poor sanitation, little safe drinking water, weather-beaten makeshift shelters, too little of everything needed, no resolution of their homelessness, and the world community turning a blind eye to their plight.
Rubble is everywhere, only 2% of it removed. On September 11, AP’s Tamara Lush reported that Port-au-Prince is strewn with “cracked slabs, busted-up cinder blocks, half-destroyed buildings,” demolished homes, and “pulverized concrete” on streets and sidewalks. “By some estimates, the quake left about 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince – more than seven times the amount of concrete” used for Hoover Dam.
Overall, it’s little different from nine months ago, authorities offering excuses that don’t hold water, including little heavy equipment, problems navigating some roads, and few dump sites to put rubble collected.
There’s no master plan, says Eric Overvest, the UN Development Program’s country director. Also, no one’s in charge, Haitian architect Leslie Voltaire saying: “Everybody is passing the blame on why things haven’t happened yet. There should be one person in charge. Resettlement has not even begun yet, and it can’t until the city has been cleared.”
Allocating funding for other purposes and bureaucratic delays complicate things. Most of all, it’s Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, exploited ruthlessly for centuries. If a comparable quake struck San Francisco, restoration would begin at once. It takes time, money and commitment, available to well-off White communities, not poor Black ones.
Katrina-ravaged New Orleans residents understand, facing dire conditions five years later, those in Black communities on their own like millions of other poor Americans unaffected by natural disasters. In many respects, their lives are little different, given little aid during dire economic times.
Refugee International (RI) on Haiti
RI “advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.” Its challenge is helping 41 million world refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), living in limbo without citizenship rights.
Emilie Parry and Melanie Teff just returned from Haiti after conducting RI’s second field assessment “of the humanitarian response and related protection issues…”
Parry’s September 13 article titled, “Haiti: Emergency Paralysis” describes what she calls:
Haitians “caught up in a protracted state of emergency. In the way that a spinal cord injury’s paralysis leads to bedsores, atrophy, and skin rot in the patient, the (poor) humanitarian response in Haiti feels paralyzed. The local community networks and linkages are atrophying, the spontaneous camps are developing bedsores, and the momentum, the window of opportunity within this emergency, may be turning to rot.”
Why? Because of world indifference. Planned reconstruction is for profit, leaving poor Haitians on their own to survive, the world community indifferent to their plight.
RI spent time in Haiti shortly after the quake, reporting on March 2 “From the Ground Up,” explaining the toll on survivors, their desperate need for everything, including “food, water, shelter and protection from abuse and exploitation.” They need an enormous amount of humanitarian aid. It’s pledged but not provided.
RI recommended linking humanitarian efforts to Haiti’s civil society network, comprised of grassroots community-based organizations plus the well-established internal NGOs. Most, however, are more self-serving than for poor Haitians, a topic a previous article addressed.
RI said few needs so far were addressed, including little or no “coordination and communication between Haitian civil society and UN and international NGOs….” Grassroots locals were mostly shut out to give corporate and well-connected NGOs free reign to profit from the vast human misery.
Locals had “a hard time accessing meetings at the UN compound in Port-au-Prince” to be part of a coordinated response. RI also interviewed displaced Haitians “who expressed concern about security,” especially women and children vulnerable to rape other violence, and abuse. Then and now, they also lacked minimal amounts of everything, RI saying:
“Most people who lost their homes sleep under makeshift dwellings of sheets and sticks providing little protection from rain,” and none from hurricanes. “The sanitation in the camps does not meet minimal international standards. The need for shelter poses immense logistical challenges… intrinsically linked to land ownership and property rights,” an issue the Preval government is doing nothing to resolve.
Affected Haitians then and now need everything they’re not getting, receiving pathetically little of the pledged aid. “By all accounts, the leadership of the humanitarian country team is ineffectual. Following the earthquake, it took three weeks for the Humanitarian Coordinator to call a meeting with aid organizations.”
Damage to affected and surrounding areas “have far-reaching implications that go beyond” reconstructing Port-au-Prince. The entire country needs help, mostly for its deeply impoverished, neglected and exploited people, the quake affected ones desperate for help, so far not forthcoming.
In her September 13 article, Parry said:
…in every part, semi-open space or crossroads in Port-au-Prince and the environs, we see a gathering of quake-displaced persons, make-shift lean-tos (few donated), tents… packed closely together, filling every space. There are no latrines, no showers, no (minimal) SPHERE standards observed, and no communications with international or local agencies responding to the emergency.
Chaotic conditions have risen to “extreme heights.” Everything needed is in short supply or not provided. Security is lacking, forcing women to sleep in shifts to protect them and others from rape and abuse. The problem for thousands of unaccompanied children is enormous.
Present day Haiti is like January’s, except for “the overwhelming stench of sewage and garbage,” and the toll on Haitians after months of neglect.
“Children and adults have developed skin rashes and infections due to the poor water and sanitary conditions in the camps. The tents and lean-tos are tattered and torn; hundreds blew away in the recent storms, none remain dry (when it) rains, and it is the middle of hurricane season.”
Across the city and surrounding areas, grassroots networks “are weakening,” without enough resources, support, or ability to work with established NGOs or world humanitarian organizations.
Of the 1,000-1,300 camps, only six are policed by UNPOL/MINISTAH – there but doing little besides writing up incidences of rapes, other crimes, and botched “street abortions” for girls as young as 10.
Camp Coordination and Management, under the leadership of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) “is a confused and contradictory mess, with an overwhelming number of cases where local camp groups have no idea” who’s in charge or what needs to be done to help.
“The numbers in the camps have grown,” some displaced people having returned to Port-au-Prince from rural areas. Nothing is being done to help them. Little coordinated aid is provided, many camp residents saying “they feel they are being left to rot, left in the camps to die.”
Scheduled November Elections
On November 28, first round legislative and presidential elections will be held. Democracy, however, will be absent because the nation’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, and 13 others are excluded, the system rigged to “elect” Washington friendly candidates.
Lawyer Ira Kurzban, an immigration and employment law expert and former legal counsel to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, calls the process “unfair, unconstitutional and undemocratic.”
Haitians know a charade is planned. Many will opt out, their choice in April 2009 for the sham process to fill 12 open Senate seats that saw an estimated 5-10% turnout. Why bother this time when virtually no one running gives a damn about ordinary Haitians. It makes a mockery of real elections – illegitimate, farcical, and little more than bad theater. Nonetheless, unless the fluid date is changed, it’ll be hailed as democracy in action. Millions of Haitians know better.
A Final Comment
Haiti remains in emergency. For growing numbers, aid is “too little, too late.” It presents an enormous challenge for those who care, to “do better, in order to support the possibility of hope, the possibility of recovery, and the opportunity to build back better.”
So far, it’s planned only for the privileged, ordinary Haitians are on their own to survive. Other generations faced it earlier for centuries, helped only by the brief interregnum under Aristide, why millions in the country so badly want him back. His presence alone would make a world of difference, helping and providing many with what’s now fading – hope.