Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Latin America & the Caribbean

HAITI: Sharing Meagre Supplies, as Graves Multiply

Ansel Herz

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 17 2010 (IPS) - Millions of dollars in aid are pouring into Haiti. Another head of state visits each day. The misery in Port-Au-Prince dominates the news nearly a week after the 7.0 earthquake struck the heart of this island country.

Children in Cité Soleil, Haiti, play with a kite made from a plastic bag among the shanty town's rubble.  Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

Children in Cité Soleil, Haiti, play with a kite made from a plastic bag among the shanty town's rubble. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

What has changed on the streets of Haiti’s capital city since the tremors? The Haitian people have mobilised, while foreign aid efforts continue to stall.

More tents have been erected in the roads where Haitians gathered, away from crumbling structures. In the public squares across from the collapsed national palace Saturday, a young couple explained that the yellow tent overhead was given to them by a wealthy Haitian.

That area, called Chanmas, seems an ideal place to distribute aid to the thousands of people sitting and sharing food and shelter in orderly fashion. But people said no aid workers had stopped by to give them anything the whole day.

Two U.S. Navy helicopters flew overhead in opposite directions while they talked with this reporter. Earlier in the day, hundreds of U.S. soldiers could be seen walking back and forth inside the airport.

As of Sunday, the United Nations reported that humanitarian relief is still being bottlenecked at the main airport and roads remain blocked with debris. Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said that one of its planes carrying essential medical supplies was not permitted to land at the airport.

“Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic,” the group said in a statement Sunday. “All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.”

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is also working with Haitian authorities to set up a land corridor to bring in relief from the Dominican town of Barahona 130 kilometres away.

With the dead still being counted, and thousands missing, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has said that 100,000 deaths “would seem a minimum”. The country’s interior minister reported that some 50,000 bodies have already been recovered.

European Union ministers called an emergency meeting for Monday to determine the costs of the massive reconstruction that will needed in coming months. The United Nations has already issued an appeal for 562 million to aid Haiti – even before the earthquake, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

The 562 million would target the estimated three million Haitians affected for a period of six months, with half of the funds being earmarked for emergency food aid, and the rest for health, water, sanitation, nutrition, early recovery, emergency education and other key needs.

But in many parts of the devastated capital, there was little evidence of outside assistance.

In the suburb of Santo, dozens of Haitian men organised a digging and rescue operation on a pile of rubble. A huge orange Caterpillar bulldozer sat nearby, stationary. Heavy equipment from the Haitian construction company CNE is all over the city.

At the collapsed parliament building in downtown Port-Au-Prince, a bulldozer retrieved the bodies of politicians lying in the street.

Supporters of Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, dragged the stiff and dripping body of a high-profile party organiser named Bob Moliere into a wheelbarrow. They followed the bulldozer 200 yards to a grassy area by the sea and dumped his body into a four-foot-deep grave they had dug minutes earlier.

Marianne Moliere, now a widow, looked out at the dipping sun with tears streaming down her face. “There is no life for me because Bob was everything to me. I lost everything. Everything is destroyed,” she said.

“I’m sleeping in the street now because I’m homeless. But when I get some water, I share with others. Or if someone gives some spaghetti, I share with my family and others.”

She clutched a manila folder with photos of her dead husband. One of them showed him shaking hands with former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The men had no idea that Aristide, pushed out by a coup in 2004, had issued a statement from exile in South Africa asking that he be allowed to return to Haiti immediately.

Told the news, they started smiling and talking excitedly with one another.

Moliere won his freedom from the post-coup regime in Haiti only three years ago after a full year in detention. The nearby grave remained open for the moment, a small mound of loose brown soil waiting to cover up Moliere’s stiff right arm pointing at the sky.

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