x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Week in review: Haiti's struggle

A little more than a week after Haiti was struck by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake, the shattered nation was hit again early on Wednesday morning by a powerful aftershock with a magnitude of 6.1. Collectively stoical, survivors speak calmly of their losses. 'It is how they try to support each other, not to cry,' an interpreter said.

A little more than a week after Haiti was struck by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake, the shattered nation was hit again early on Wednesday morning by a powerful aftershock with a magnitude of 6.1. "In Gressier, a small village outside the town that was said to be the epicenter, men worked on the rubble piles of their destroyed homes," The New York Times reported. "They said there was little new damage, but weakened walls had finally given way. " 'Most have been leaning,' said Ely Annaud, 42, a Gressier villager. 'After this morning, they are totally gone.' "Asked if they were scared, a crowd of men around Mr Annaud shout 'oui, oui'. " 'It was just so fast and so strong,' said Pierre Chermami, 47. "Speaking through an interpreter, he said matter-of-factly that he lost his wife and 22-year-old daughter here. The interpreter, who grew up nearby, said the calm was a kind of contract; if one cried, all would break down. 'It is how they try to support each other, not to cry,' the interpreter said." The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday: "Haitians crowded the fence of the National Palace, watching as scores of solders of the US Army's 82nd Airborne poured out of helicopters. Hundreds of Marines, meanwhile, waded ashore west of the capital to set up a key new beachhead for distributing aid. " 'They are going to do big things for us,' said Marjorie Exinore, standing near the National Palace. Edson Blanc, 20 years old, said the UN peacekeepers in Haiti had done little to help following the quake, but hoped the Americans would. 'The American troops are much stronger,' he said." Agence France-Presse said: "For many dejected Haitians, even as they welcome the prospect of vital aid, the arrival of US troops is a symbol for how low the country has fallen in the space of one dismal week. "And the US deployment was not welcomed by some in the crowd who saw the arrival as an affront to Haitian sovereignty. " 'I haven't seen the Americans in the streets giving out water and food, but now they come to the palace,' said Wilson Guillaume, as some of the homeless living rough in the Champ de Mars square before the palace shouted abuse. " 'It's an occupation. The palace is our power, our face, our pride,' said Feodor Desanges. "US officials said the troops are part of a mobilisation that will involve more than 10,000 troops. They insist however that their presence was not meant to be seen as a show of military might, but a gesture of support." The New York Times reported: "Every day, a United States Air Force cargo plane specially equipped with radio transmitters flies for five hours over the devastated country, broadcasting news and a recorded message from Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador in Washington. " 'Listen, don't rush on boats to leave the country,' Mr Joseph says in Creole, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. 'If you do that, we'll all have even worse problems. Because, I'll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the US and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.'" In a commentary for The Washington Post, Jeffrey D Sachs wrote: "In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week's earthquake, roughly half of the nation's 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides. The country is still trying to recover from the hurricanes of 2008 as well as longtime social and political traumas. The government's inability to cope has been obvious, but those of us who have been around Haiti for many years also know about the lofty international promises that follow each disaster - and how ineffectual the response has been each time. "In the past two decades, US interventions have done much more harm than good to the Haitian economy. In the early 1990s, Washington thought it did Haiti a favour by imposing a crushing trade embargo to bring about democratisation - specifically, the reinstatement of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The embargo destroyed Haiti's fragile manufacturing industries. "Then, true to America's political swings, ideologues in the Bush administration spent years trying to oust Aristide, first by foisting a de facto and illegal aid freeze on international development agencies, and then by brazenly toppling Aristide and carrying him to the Central African Republic. Congress took a pass on reviewing these sordid events, pausing only to declare its love for the Haitian people. "Now it's time to save Haitian lives by the millions, or watch a generation perish. A serious response will require a new approach. President Obama should recognise that the US government alone lacks the means, attention span and true regard for Haiti that is needed to see this through past the most urgent phase. After the coming weeks, during which US emergency airlift assistance is essential, the effort should be quickly internationalised, in an effective manner that acknowledges US political realities and leverages the help that Washington will give." Time magazine talked to Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti programme at Trinity University in Washington DC, about the prospects for Haiti's recovery. He said: "There's a potential silver lining in a deep, dark cloud. Investment in the development of rural Haitian economies has been lacking for the past three decades. This has spurred a tremendous, off-the-land migration to Port-au-Prince. An average of about 75,000 people per year have been arriving in Port-au-Prince from the countryside for 30 years. That's why the city has grown from 750,000 people in 1982 to more than 2 million today. You can't change tectonic plates, but you can change the dynamic that has people seeking a sliver of opportunity in a city that can't offer it to them. They stack up against each other, and you see the results. "Already, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced. Right now, they're displaced within the city, but they are eventually going to be displaced throughout Haiti. People are trying to get out of the city to places they have a connection with elsewhere in the country. That's happening in a de facto way. One of things we might want to look at is trying to have it happen in a more structured way. This is where I think the silver lining may be. I've been advocating for a long time - and I've gotten traction with a number people in Haiti, and discussed it with [UN special envoy for Haiti] President Clinton and [UN deputy special envoy for Haiti] Paul Farmer and people within the [US] State Department - an idea like the approach of Roosevelt in the New Deal: to create institutions that could not only employ people but also mobilise them to help rebuild the country and gain a stake in the process."

pwoodward@thenational.ae