Love thy neighbour: Haiti and the Dominican Republic

A sample food kit at the CRS/Caritas Haiti warehouse destined for Haitian families. All of these goods were donated by churches and communities across the border in the Dominican Republic. Conor O'Loughlin Caritas/2010

By Conor O’Loughlin, Trócaire (Caritas Ireland) in Port-au-Prince

With the airport in Port-au-Prince still not fully functional, most aid workers are getting to Haiti via the Dominican Republic. The road across the island of Hispaniola forms a line between two very different capitals: Santo Domingo with its Caribbean charm and laid-back atmosphere at one end and impoverished, stricken Port-au-Prince at the other.

The drive takes between five and eight hours, depending on traffic, and the route is lined with aid convoys bringing food and water, tents and medical supplies to the three million Haitians affected by the earthquake of January 12.

The border is chaotic. Leaving behind the genial bustle and brightly-painted houses of the Dominican Republic, the gate that marks the divide separates what could be thought of as heaven and hell.

Immediately you know you’re in a different country. The tar road gives way to rough gravel and the gay villages become sad, earth-coloured settlements that give off a thick air of poverty, even from a distance.

The people on this side smile less, too, but then they have less reason to.

It is well documented at this stage that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with two-thirds of people living off less than $2 a day. The Dominican Republic is hardly rich, but with an average GDP of around eight times that of Haiti, people here are a little further up the ladder of development.

The population of the Dominican Republic is largely based on the east of the country around the capital so they were not generally affected by the massive quake.

But that is not to say that they have forgotten their neighbours at the end of the dirt road. Caritas Haiti and CRS have been inundated with donations from churches and diocese and have filled a whole warehouse with foodstuffs given to the people of Haiti.

Trócaire’s emergency director, Maurice McQuillan, inspected the warehouse yesterday and was bowled over by the huge amounts given by people who themselves don’t have much to spare.

The warehouse is a sight to see, and every day church and community organisations from across Haiti are making the journey to take what they can back to their people. There are huge numbers of tinned goods, such as sardines and beans, as well as biscuits, thousands of bottles of water, and even some small treats for kids that have seen terrible things in the past two weeks.

Caritas Haiti volunteers are working night and day preparing different food kits for communities, based on the different dietary needs of a family. Each calorie is counted, as well as the fat, protein and carbohydrate content of each product.

Haitians know that the world is helping and while everyone is frustrated at the difficulties in delivering aid to everyone who needs it, things are improving every day.

The UN’s head of emergency response, John Holmes was quoted over the weekend as saying, “Of course there’s chaos. It’s an emergency. That’s what chaos means.”

All those aid trucks barreling down the highway from Santo Domingo have a purpose, and their cargo is having a dramatic effect on the lives of survivors.

And it’s somehow comforting to know that, amongst the heavily branded vehicles of well-known and well-funded international NGOs, at least some of those trucks were carrying foodstuffs from Dominican families, not too rich themselves, packaged only as an expression of goodwill, from one neighbour to another.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

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