Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Haiti Unprepared for Hurricanes

The Red Thread Promise is experiencing an uncanny feeling of deja vu as we read some of today's headlines about Haiti.

Back in March, we were devastated by our first-hand look into some of the tent cities in Port au Prince. We toured one that was deemed "nice" in which we were allowed out of the vehicles to look around and interact with people living there. There were rows of tents as far as you could see, side-to-side with little space in between. People walked from all over the huge camp to share small communal water stations. There were no bathroom facilities that we were aware of. People milled around aimlessly. Residents came from every direction to see who we were, who brought us and what we may have brought for them. It was emotionally devastating to try to comprehend the volume of people living in the camp at this level of poverty. Many people had nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

A look inside a "nice" tent camp

Getting water from a communal water source

A resident shows us inside her "home"

People came from all around to see us

Erin, TRTP Board Member, surrounded by curious residents

Next we were taken to a very different camp that helped us understand why the first camp was labeled "nice". We were given strict instructions to stay in the vehicles at all times and not to interact with anyone. Our guides were even carrying concealed weapons for our safety. It was filthy, trash everywhere, crumbled concrete, blazing hot sun, tents made from next to nothing that provided little shelter for those inside, people begging at the cars, a desperate child trying to climb into ours. It was one of the most heart-shattering experiences of the trip. By this time, we were all emotionally numb. Not many words were exchanged as we wondered what it must be like to "live" like this.

A look inside the "not so nice" tent camp

Makeshift tent

Unexplained isolated family

Child who tried to get in our truck

Close up of some of the "homes"

Living conditions in both tent cities were horrifying. Our overall impression was that of despair and hopelessness. In our debriefing session that night, we discussed our concern for the residents currently living in those conditions. We also pondered what may be their fate as Haiti moved toward the upcoming rainy and hurricane seasons.

Again in our trip in May, these same concerns were discussed at length. How are people living in these tent cities going to weather the tropical storms and hurricanes that will certainly come their way in the coming months?

Conditions are no better; in many cases they are worse. Add to it the fact that humanitarian aid workers are beginning to return to their home countries and it is cause for even greater concern. We noted Europeans, Israelis, Brazilians, and Swiss relief workers leaving in May. The only obvious groups remaining are Canadian and Americans.

In today's news, we caught several articles that articulate the concern we have had for months regarding Haiti's homeless.


(From UPI.com)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 1 (UPI) -- Authorities say earthquake-ravaged Haiti is far from ready for big stormsthat could hit during this year’s hurricane season, which officially began Tuesday.

Meteorologists predict the Atlantic Ocean could have at least 15 hurricanes, The Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

An estimated 1.5 million Haitian earthquake victims are living in tent and tarp camps, many in low-lying areas at risk of mud and flooding.

The Haitian government has established just two new emergency relocation camps amid a rush to finish more temporary dwellings on higher ground, the Herald reported.

An estimated 120 camps in Port-au-Prince are at risk of flooding, landslides, or standing water from heavy rain, said Shuan Scales of the International Organization for Migration.

Aid groups said suitable land is desperately needed to relocate camp-dwellers and too few drainage ditches exist to keep storm water flowing away from populated areas.

“We have made progress, but we still are not there yet,” Chris Milligan, a U.S. response coordinator said recently in Washington.


(from reuters.com)

In disaster-prone Haiti, nearly five months after a catastrophic earthquake that killed some 300,000 people -- according to government estimates -- more than 1.5 million quake survivors are still living in over 1,000 fragile, crowded tent camps in and around the wrecked capital Port-au-Prince.

Relief workers are bracing for the extra-active hurricane season and hoping against hope that it does not unleash the kind of flooding and landslides which have killed thousands of Haitians in the past -- even without the kind of vulnerable situation that the poor Caribbean country now finds itself in.

“This is a prospect that we’re certainly not happy about ... We don’t want to have a secondary disaster on our hands,” Julie Schindall, international media officer of Oxfam, said.

An evaluation of 28 camp sites where Oxfam works has concluded that thousands of survivors are vulnerable to landslides and flooding due to hurricanes, the organization said. It called on the Haitian government to urgently implement a public communications campaign to inform people about risks.

Extreme overcrowding, little natural drainage and weak land structure were major problems highlighted in the Oxfam survey. Relief groups were working to improve drainage and help the communities to place sandbags around their shelters.

“When you see someone living under a plastic sheet, on a dirt floor, imagine that under a foot of water, Schindall told Reuters, saying there were concerns too that water pooling in the camps would increase the risk of epidemics.

The government and its aid partners have moved some survivors to more secure sites and are clearing storm drains.

U.S. relief and development group Food for the Poor said housing remained one of the biggest needs. “It takes only a few inches of rain to put lives in danger because that’s all that is needed to produce flooding and mudslides,” it said.

In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne killed over 3,000 Haitians. In 2008, hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike killed some 1,000, destroyed 20,000 homes and wiped out 70 percent of crops.

Please keep the homeless of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers. Please also consider supporting The Red Thread Promise's efforts to help this devastated country.


Food For The Poor said...

Thank you for mentioning Food For The Poor and our work on your blog!


Megan @FoodForThePoor

Timo said...

I'm surprised that you got the impression that aid workers are leaving. I'm currently working in Haiti and see dozens and dozens of different nationalities. If anything my impression is that many agencies are increasing their staffing levels.

Red Thread Sonya said...

@ Timo - These impressions are from Wade, our contact who just returned from 1 month in Haiti working in a PAP hospital/clinic. We dearly hope that you are correct and that more aid is coming and staying. The Red Thread Promise is certainly in it for the long haul. Our work started before the earthquake and will continue for years to come. What type of work are you doing there?