John Holmes, the UN Humanitarian Chief, yesterday expressed frustration with the humanitarian response in Haiti. Holmes stated finding available land for transitional shelters, slow decision-making by the government and new waves of Haitians moving into the settlements (often for services not available in their own neighborhoods) have made responding to the crisis particularly difficult. The Haitian government, responsible for setting priorities and developing plans, lacks staffing and expertise. It is being pulled in many directions at once on issues relating to shelter, hurricane contingency planning, governance reforms, elections, law enforcement, food security, and decentralization.
Port Au Prince
Port au Prince lost many of its architectural landmarks in the earthquake. One of these was the Iron Market. While the market was hot and crowded, it was also full of energy. One cannot help but miss it. Half of the market was for vendors selling Vodoun flags, paintings and other works of art. The other side was an entrepeneurial free for all where you could find just about anything. The CNN article below notes that, while it will take years, the Iron Market will be rebuilt. Hopefully it will be bigger, stronger, and safer.
As we get closer to May, the rains will become more frequent and intense. Even brief rainfall to date gives an indication of how vulnerable the displaced in Port au Prince are to flooding and mud-slides. Some, such as the displaced at the Petionville Golf Club are being relocated to the hastily prepared Corail-Cesselesse site 15 km north of Port au Prince. Six other sites require urgent evacuation before the rainy season. Other sites can be made safer with engineering interventions. Disturbingly, hundreds sheltering at the National Stadium were reported to have been forcibly removed. Close coordination and rapid action are urgently needed to protect the displaced from the upcoming rains.
A Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT) Team was deployed to Port au Prince last night with all the equipment needed to train earthquake responders on OpenStreetMap. Essentially, OpenStreetMap is a free, editable map of the whole world. Why does this matter to Haiti? OpenStreetMap, being available to everyone without cost, provides a mechanism for humanitarian responders and development actors to rapidly share geographic information. The HOT team will spend the next several weeks in Port au Prince helping to bring this about.
Hello from Cap Haitian, the chipped pearl of the Antilles. When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central Plateau, I would sometimes take Route National Three from Hinche to Cap for a long weekend. I never looked forward to the grueling trip, but I always looked forward to being in Cap. The beaches were (and still are) beautiful and this region is historically rich. It is here that Christopher Columbus landed and where he lost one of his ships. The Haitian slave rebellion began with a single Vodoun ceremony in Bois Cayman and ended with the battle of Vertieres. The Citadel looms from a mountain in the distance. While the city of Cap Haitian has changed, and not for the better, it is still good to be back in the north.
Haiti is forever changed. At least 150,000 people, equivalent to the population of Tallahassee, have died. At least 600,000, more than the population of Seattle, are without homes. Over 130,000, approximately the population of Syracuse, have left Port au Prince for the countryside. After a disaster of this magnitude, life does not go back to normal. Still, even in the face of great uncertainty, life goes on. Telecommunications are mostly up and running, some banks are opening, more gas stations are functional, markets and factories are re-openening. Neighborhood committees are meeting and people are attending church services. All agree it will take many years to rebuild. The question is how Haiti can recover and be built back better than it was before?
The suffering caused by the earthquake is difficult to fully comprehend. Haitian authorities report that at least 72,000 bodies have been recovered. Some predict the final death toll will be as high as 150,000 in Port au Prince alone. Up to 1.5 million people may be homeless. ICRC reports approximately 55,000 people in 40 informal temporary camps throughout the city. As you read this, many people are going back to the countryside. While most of the damage took place in the southern portion of Haiti, the whole country will be affected. The Government has declared a period of national mourning until February 17. We all grieve for what Haiti has lost.
Right now, the priority is saving lives by ensuring access to food, water, and health care. Recovery will take many years and the assistance of the international community will be required in order to do so. But what kind of asssistance will be most effective? The New York Times, in its blog series "Room for Debate", asked a number of individuals connected to Haiti for their thoughts on what kind of aid should be provided and how. They may have very different beliefs, backgrounds, and perspectives but all care for Haiti. Taken together, their feedback is interesting food for thought that should be taken into account now and over the long term.
Haiti was struck today by the largest earthquake in the region since 1770. Information is spotty but we do know the following: The General Hospital, the Ministry of Commerce, the National Palace (left), and many homes have collapsed. What we do not know is how many have been injured and how many have died. Power lines are down. Comms were also down but are slowly improving. The international airport is still intact. We heard from Matt and he is ok. If half of the Twitter reports are true, this has been a major catastrophe. We will post updates in the comments section, please do the same.
Surgical Volunteers International (SVI) is an organization that specializes in treating clefts, burns and urological problems. SVI visited Haiti in March and worked with Haitian counterparts to reconstruct, without charge, 67 cleft lips and palates. SVI will travel to Haiti in June and again in September. If you know of a Haitian child in need of surgery for a cleft lip or palate, please pass on the contact information contained in the attached flyer (in Kreyol) to his/her family. Below is a summary of their last visit from the SVI Blog.