x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Desperate Haitians help themselves

As humanitarian aid is starting to flow, many earthquake survivors, still in desperate need, have yet to receive assistance, yet those that can are helping themselves in self-initiated camps housing 450,000 people. The official death toll from the earthquake in Haiti is now more than 150,000 and that only counts the number of bodies recovered. "Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble - 200,000? 300,000? Who knows the overall death toll?" a minister said.

The official death toll from the earthquake in Haiti is now more than 150,000 and that only counts the number of bodies recovered. "Nobody knows how many bodies are buried in the rubble - 200,000? 300,000? Who knows the overall death toll?" Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue told the Associated Press. "The government's figures were based on data from CNE, a state company which has collected and buried corpses in mass graves in Port-au-Prince and a semi-rural wasteland, Titanyen, outside the capital," The Guardian reported. "It was a sharp spike from Saturday when the UN said the government had confirmed 111,481 bodies. Before today's statement authorities had estimated a total of 200,000 from the 12 January 7.0-magnitudequake. Up to 3 million people are estimated to need aid." The National reported on the efforts of survivors to scrape a living in an economy that has been shattered. "Jenni Chery sits behind a tangle of electric cables, car batteries and power strips, plugging in his neighbours' mobile phones for about 40 US cents (Dh1.5) a recharge, between the mountains of corpse-ridden rubble in this devastated capital. "The 36-year-old was a carpenter for 10 years but, like many residents of Port-au-Prince, he was forced to make a rapid career change when the earthquake flattened more than one-third of this city on January 12. "Although destitute, homeless and hungry, many survivors of Haiti's most devastating earthquake in more than a century agree on what is most urgently needed to kick-start their economic recovery: jobs. "Clutching CVs handwritten in ball-point pens and wearing the smartest clothes salvageable from devastated homes, they wander the streets looking for employment - many begging for translation work among the influx of foreign-aid workers and journalists. " 'I used to be a carpenter, but after the earthquake there has been no work for me,' said Mr Chery, sitting behind his makeshift stall in Carrefoure-Feuilles, a hilltop suburb of the capital. 'My house was destroyed. I have two boys to feed. The food is running out and water is hard to come by. If this continues to pay, then I will keep on charging mobile phones.'" Reporting for The Sunday Times, Tony Allen-Mills visited an American-owned missionary compound in Mariani, on the coast road about 20km west of Port-au-Prince. "On Friday I had paid my second visit to the New Hope Ministry, hoping that the misery I had witnessed earlier in the week would have been brought under control: that the aid supplies spreading through the fast-rotting shantytowns at the centre of Port-au-Prince would have reached this forlorn outpost only a few miles out of town. "Instead, I found Father Emil Samedi sitting at a small desk just inside his gate, exhaustion etched on his face, his words filled with despair. " 'I've been up and down this country and every door is closed,' the priest said. 'We are running out of food; our children are throwing up water. " 'They keep saying that the government is having a meeting and that soon someone will come. But no one comes and I no longer know what I should do.' "To pass time as he waited for assistance, he decided to conduct a census. Living rough in less than an acre of space around the mission church are 2,027 people. "The plight of New Hope's forgotten refugees - and countless earthquake survivors like them - highlights both the challenge and the daunting obstacles confronting relief co-ordinators. "Aid is flowing at last. But there is no visible mechanism in place to ensure that it reaches those most in need." Jon Lee Anderson from The New Yorker said: "There is a general air of disappointment with the speed and organisation of the international community's humanitarian response. It is not as if Haitians are surprised by this. They are used to being let down, by everyone, from the UN to their own governments. "That said, the truly striking thing in the past week has been how much the Haitians have helped themselves. There are said to be over three hundred provisional camps in Port-au-Prince, housing over four hundred and fifty thousand people, all of them self-initiated. It is impressive." Michael Deibert, the author of Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti wrote in Salon: "Far from being the looting mobs that some media have portrayed them as, hardly anyone who has witnessed the response of the Haitians to this great catastrophe has not been moved by their incredible resilience and solidarity and their intact sense of humour in the face of an unimaginable tragedy. "As all the pillars of the Haitian state - a state that has often seemed only able to rouse itself to parasitically victimise its own people when it did make its presence felt - collapsed around them, the Haitians helped one another, dug through rubble, prayed, sang and showed everyone who has watched them what the meaning of true perseverance in the face of adversity looks like, even though the losses have been tremendous and irreplaceable .... "Sometimes since I have returned to Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, I have felt as if I would be overcome by despair. Looking at block after block of ruins throughout the capital's downtown, or seeing the terrible death and destruction caused by the collapse of the Université de Port-au-Prince, ringed by weeping, desperate relatives of those lost, one almost wants to turn away. "But the Haitians, always the Haitians, keep one going, and seeing their dignity in this moment has made me love them and their battered country as never before." Juan Carlos Chavez, reporting for the Miami Herald, witnessed the stark contrast between Haiti's rich and poor as they face the impact of the earthquake. "In the highest hills of Petionville, above the ruined Haitian capital, there are no dead in the streets. There is no rubble. "The earthquake that killed tens of thousands in the city below hardly touched the people of this wealthy neighbourhood. " 'Most of them chose to leave Haiti until the situation improves,' said Jean Robert, 55, a worker who has been reinforcing walls in the posh neighbourhood. 'There are homes that have had damage. But they're few, and I don't think it's a problem. They'll build other ones.' "On the lower sides of the same hill, the change of scene is dramatic: The straight, spacious, tree-lined streets give way to a tangle of tiny homes. Bodies still lie amid the rubble, and the victims await help from international relief agencies. "But at the top, business goes on as usual. The hotel Ibo Lele remains open, and there are hardly any cracks in the walls of apartment buildings such as La Clos. Even the church, Divine Mercy Parish, is lucky. There will likely be a Mass on Sunday, and a crack on one of the altar walls will be repaired soon. " 'The situation here is different,' said Father Calixto Hilaire, the parish priest, acknowledging that the impact of the quake was hardly felt among the wealthier families in the district."

pwoodward@thenational.ae