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Haiti: The catastrophe continues

Published Sep 29, 2010 5:22 PM

The situation for the homeless in Port-au-Prince is so grim that a 10-minute rain storm with high winds on Sept. 24 left at least five people dead, hundreds injured and thousands of shelters — tents, tarps and sheets — destroyed. As of Sept. 26 the government had not reported the toll for towns outside of the capital.

Demanding justice for Haiti, NYC, Sept. 25.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

The Haitian Solidarity Network of the North East had called the Sept. 25 protest before this latest episode in the Haitian catastrophe, but all of the 150 people who participated in this march from the Haitian Consulate to the United Nations had it on their minds.

Standing in mud, Yvrose Chery told French TV: “We have been here for nine months. But the tents are only good for three months. The government is not responsible for the earthquake, they could at least show some compassion. ... We are all human beings.”

Eight months after the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, between 1.5 and 2 million people are still living in temporary shelters in over 1,000 and sites scattered throughout the city. Rain leaves many sites filled with mud, with large pools of standing water. Sanitation — garbage disposal and waste facilities — are hit or miss. Many homeless in Port-au-Prince have trouble finding drinkable water and enough food for themselves and their families. Jobs are few and far between.

While the government and Minustah, the U.N.’s occupation force, put out claims that “humanitarian needs of the people are being met,” a survey this summer by Mark Schuller and his students found only one family in eight had tents and three in five have tarps. This means that most families have to share space or use sheets and branches.

Schuller is an anthropologist at York College with long experience in Haiti. His team found only 70 percent of the camps had toilets and only 60 percent had water, but according to people just back from Haiti conditions have drastically deteriorated since the summer.

People with enough political clout to claim to be the landlords or owners of a tent site — though much proof of ownership was lost in the government buildings collapsed by the earthquake — have started evicting the homeless from their mud patches or charging them rent.

The figure for tent-site evictions some nongovernmental organizations use is 20 percent. The most common rent, according to a speaker at the Sept. 25 protest, is 55 gourdes a week or $1.50. This may look like little in the U.S. but for a Haitian family with no regular income it is a big effort to pay this much for a mud patch.

The HSNNE demonstration was focused around the question, “Where’s the money?”

Over $11 billion was pledged to Haiti after the earthquake by various governments. Donations to charities like Oxfam, the Red Cross, UNESCO and so on amounted to another $1 billion.

Only 3 percent of the $11 billion from governments has been dispersed and about 60 percent of the private contributions.

Kim Ives, a journalist with Haïti-Liberté, pointed out that a large amount from the private contributions has gone to supporting the staffs of the 10,000 NGOs currently in Haiti. When Ray Laforest, a Haitian labor organizer in New York spoke, he demanded that Haitians control all the aid that is spent in their country to serve their own needs.

Haitians have a proud history, filled with bravery and courage in resisting tyranny and oppression that at the time seemed overwhelming. They smashed the French army that Napoleon sent to re-enslave them. They resisted the 1915-1934 U.S. occupation. They resisted the U.S.-backed Duvaliers. They elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990.

Reconstructing Haiti after the devastation of Jan. 12 is another epic challenge for the Haitian people.