Haiti: what matters, is to care about the individual person

By Christine Decker

After an over 10 hour-flight and several stopovers, we arrive in Port-au-Prince on Monday afternoon. From a bird’s eye view, we can already spot the countless tents and tarpaulins.

Their blue, white or red colour stands off from the city’s grey rubble. The 12 January earthquake has changed the cityscape, at least seen from above. It is cynical to say, but in some way, the scenery has become more colourful.

Shortly after, we head into Port-au-Prince’s chaotic traffic. Travelling hawkers are selling goods on the roadside. Cars and lorries of all types honk their way across streets full of potholes. Life has to go on.

Everywhere between houses and rubble, you can see tents, small and big ones, or makeshift shelter made out of tarpaulins. Countless people died under this rubble. Rubble that is now being shifted back and forth by caterpillars diggers, laying the foundations for reconstruction.

“It is extremely difficult to live and work here,” said Mauro Ansaldi. He has been coordinating Caritas‘ worldwide earthquake response here in Port-au-Prince over the last three months. “Although many major international NGOs, the UN organisations and US armed forces are here, it remains a real challenge to get aid to the people who need it most.”

In the informal settlements all over the capital, there are still many people who have not even received a tarpaulin, he tells me.

The problem is complex. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was an extremely poor country. People had already experienced a lot of shortages before. More than half of them are illiterate. The government and authorities were already weak before the earthquake as well. Haiti is one the most corrupt countries in the world, a country where the strongest ones rule.

“When you see it in this perspective, Caritas aid is just a drop in the ocean,” says Mauro Ansaldi. The 10 million euro immediate relief response of Caritas members worldwide is coming to an end these days.

“We have reached 1.5 million people,” he explains. “We distributed different types of relief material, tents, tarpaulins and many other things, soap, jerry cans, medicine…..”

But the scope of the disaster is so big that the impact of relief operations is hard to see despite weeks and months of continuous efforts.

“I don’t even want to think about reconstruction,” says Mauro Ansaldi. “There is no building land in Port-au-Prince, no place where people can build themselves a worthy new home.”

Ansaldi however won’t give up. Caritas has accepted this challenge and will continue to cope with the situation. What matters at the end, is the individual person, the mother and her children receiving a gesture of charity despite all this misery.

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

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