Haiti one month on and ten years backwards

A woman holds a ticket to receive 50 pounds of rice at the Salesian Seminary in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/Catholic Relief Services

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

As we approach the one month anniversary of the earthquake that decimated Haiti 12 January, the Haitian government has released updated figures that give a chilling account of the destruction.

The death toll stands at over 230,000 people, around the same number who were killed in the 2004 Asia tsunami (in 14 countries). With the rubble only starting to be cleared in Haiti, the figure can be expected to rise.

250,000 houses were destroyed and 30,000 businesses disrupted. Approximately 502,000 people remain homeless throughout Port-au-Prince alone, spread between 322 different camps.

The government fears it could take ten years to rebuild Haiti, one of the world’s least developed countries, to the same level it was 11 January. Reconstruction efforts will begin after the initial relief effort has finished, but we’re still in the initial phase.

The response, one of the largest seen anywhere in the world for years, is continuously adapting to the changing environment.

Sanitation and the control of transmutable diseases is a major concern in many of the settlements. While there is an increasing number of children with diarrhoea in temporary settlements there has been no outbreak of epidemics. The immunisation campaign against measles, diphtheria, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough continues to focus on people living in the densely populated temporary settlements.

Not everyone is living in a camp. There are reports of some households holding up to 38 people as survivors struggle to find shelter. This is clearly unsustainable and presents a whole raft of challenges.

The disaster has caused the price of food price in areas around Port-au-Prince to spiral. Given that three-quarters of Haitians already live under the poverty line, millions of people are finding it more difficult than ever to afford basic foodstuffs.

It has been estimated that almost five-and-a-half million tons of rubble need to be removed from Port-au-Prince in order to facilitate reconstruction efforts and to accommodate the homeless. So 32,000 people have been hired through the UN cash-for-work programmes to help clear the rubble and remove waste in settlements that has been building up for almost a month. In these programmes, single mothers, single-parent households and other earthquake affected individuals are beneficiaries.

At least 300,000 people have been treated for injuries. Over 1,000 amputations have taken place since the earthquake and over 50 people have become paralysed from spinal cord injuries in the city. Amputees and patients with severe injuries need follow-up care after surgery but currently discharged patients are sent back to their community or temporary settlements without the necessary essential basic care to avoid complications.

While there is a decline in trauma injuries requiring treatment, the increased number of cases of children with diarrheal disease are increasing and focussing efforts on the need for increased water and sanitation services in the congested camps.

Caritas is also working with the Ministry of Health on a new public health campaign to combat both contagious diseases and the regular maladies that would be expected in any population of this size.

Caritas has signed a contract to provide 400 mobile latrines at the Champ de Mars camp beside the ruins of the Presidential Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince. In the three sites in which Caritas is working, a wide range of infrastructure is in place from basic latrines to septic tanks, showers and the construction of a drainage system. Water systems are continuing to be improved this week.

To date, Caritas has provided food to over 200,000 people at the Petionville Club camp – the largest in the city – in downtown Port-au-Prince and in Tabarre. As people continue to leave, Caritas is assessing new sites in camps outside the capital.

Between Friday and Sunday, the shelter team distributed 3,000 emergency shelter kits, including plastic sheeting and the nails and string to create tents, for 18,000 people at the Petionville Club.

Despite rumours of rancour at distributions, Caritas distributions so far have been calm and respectful. This has been attributed to good organisation and communication with the people being targeted 7,000 more kits are being prepared for distribution.

2 Comments

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

2 responses to “Haiti one month on and ten years backwards

  1. Tim Devlin

    This is a massive effort indeed! I know of a rural area Gaillard about a 3 hour donkey ride outside of Cayes Jacmal. Its 69 families are out of food, their homes are distroyed and they camp outside a wooden structured school house. Does anyone know of any efforts to help people outside of the cities? Should these people all go to the cities and add to the confusion there? Would it be possible to have some supplies taken even part way to these type of communities?

  2. It is unfortunate that it takes a dramatic event such as an earthquake or a tsunami to focus the world’s attention. Millions of people die needlessly from extreme poverty every year, and yet there is no concentrated effort to save them. A large part of the Haitian population was living in poverty before the earthquake hit. When disaster struck, the death toll was driven up because of the poverty that already existed. But in the weeks before the tragedy there was no coordinated effort to save the lives of Haitians. We gave no thought to the orphans. There was no star studded telethon to solicit donations to provide food, water and medical care to the region. Haiti was a place many people could not locate on a map. But the Haitians were already suffering. They lived in squalor and filth. They lived with hunger and disease. They tried to survive on less than two dollars a day. They lived in makeshift shelters. They drank unsafe water. They were ravaged by HIV/AIDS. And they were ignored……After the dust settles on the earthquake, we can’t forget Haiti. They will need our help for years to come. We have to make the long term financial commitment to help them rebuild their country and their lives.

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