Thursday, September 11, 2008

Haiti at its breaking point

Haiti has been battered by storms Ike, Hanna, Gustav and Fay, all within the past month and the hurricane season is not yet over. Aside from wind damage, the storms have caused massive flooding in this little impoverished country where the people, individually and collectively, have few resources to protect themselves. Hundreds of thousands have had to flee their homes. The nation’s infrastructure has been severely damaged making the task of delivering aid to the injured and homeless very difficult.

Some of the worse devastation is in the city of Gonaives, a city of over 100,000. Much of the city remains under water. Kristie van de Wetering is the Communications and Advocacy Officer for Oxfam GB-Haiti. She reports on the situation:

"The situation is at its breaking point in Gonaives," reported Oxfam's Charlie Rowley early Sunday, just back from the all but wiped-out town. "There are very few, if any, coping mechanisms left for the people there. Whatever food and clean water there was in the town is gone. And no new food or supplies are coming in. If food and supplies don't reach the people in the next 48 hours, we will have a situation of epic proportions on our hands."

Almost one week after Tropical Storm Hanna descended on Haiti, getting food and supplies to Gonaives have been virtually impossible. The main road from Port au Prince was cut when a bridge collapsed just outside of St. Marc, and the road is cut from the North as the bridge in the neighbouring town of Ennery was washed away. The alternative route through the Central Plateau proved difficult for large trucks carrying supplies, and rough waters have delayed planned shipments of humanitarian aid via boat.

According to UN estimates, 60,000 people are said to be in temporary shelters - shelters that are not much more than that, a roof overhead. "The conditions of those in shelters are horrific. There is no food, water, cooking materials, basic toiletries or medical supplies, sleeping mats, or latrines. People are in desperate need of anything and everything", Rowley adds, noting that many people he saw have injuries to their feet because they are wading through the water without shoes.

People are fleeing the town by the hundreds - on foot, in cars, whatever way they can. Some are moving up to the small plateau to the North of Gonaives, others going south.

Ogè Léandre, 45 year-old father of six explains how he and his family barely managed to get to the shelters in time. "The waters from Tropical Storm Jeanne [2004] did not reach us, so we did not think that we needed to evacuate this time. So we packed up everything off the ground and stacked it on top of tables and beds. But then the water started to rise, and it did not stop. So we decided to go to the shelter. But the water was already so high and strong that I could not hold on one of my children and the water swept her away. Luckily someone was there to grab her. We got to roof top of the shelter, and, about an hour later, watched as our entire house was washed away."

In the meantime Hurricane Ike grazed the northern coast of Haiti early Sunday morning, bringing more rain to Gonaives and other towns in the Valley. The rain washed out the bridge in Mirebalais (in the Central Plateau on the alternative route into Gonaives), and massive flooding and deaths are being reported in the town of Cabaret, just North of Port-au-Prince.

"We cannot wait for the roads and bridges to be repaired. We must get supplies into Gonaives now," Oxfam's Humanitarian Coordinator Kone Amara insists emphatically…

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

Thanks for this. I would have never run across it if not for you.