Haiti: Reeling from another natural disaster
Haiti can’t take any more, said Emmanuel Saintus in Haiti-Progres.com. Hurricane Matthew hit as a Category 4 monster last week, with winds of 142 mph and torrential rains that lashed the country for days. More than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless. Among the victims were many of the 80,000 Haitians who have been living in makeshift shelters since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, which killed more than 220,000 people and flattened countless homes. A week after Matthew struck, some 1.4 million people still need emergency shelter, food, and water. “A massive response is required,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “Some towns and villages have been almost wiped off the map.” But the devastation is so great that getting aid to those who need it is extraordinarily difficult. “You have no means of communication, no radio, no telephone, no roads, and even a helicopter can’t land,” said Jean-Luc Poncelet of the World Health Organization. Many towns are entirely cut off.
Now “the bruised population” has to grapple with a resurgent cholera epidemic, said Edrid St. Juste in Le Nouvelliste. Cholera has killed 10,000 Haitians and sickened more than 800,000 since 2010, when it was brought here by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal. The flooding from Matthew has sent raw sewage coursing into waterways across the country, contaminating drinking water for thousands of people. Dead bodies float in rivers. Authorities have begun burying the dead in mass graves, but getting the sewage situation under control will take weeks.
Haiti will take charge of the relief effort this time, said Frantz Duval, also in Le Nouvelliste. We refuse to “fall into the trap we did after the earthquake, when everything was imported, from the smallest bottle of water to the largest shelters.” That well-intentioned foreign aid undercut our nation’s businesses and wrecked our economy. Fortunately this time, our capital, Port-au-Prince, was largely spared, and it still has its production capacity. Acting President Jocelerme Privert is prepared to “make it compulsory” for international aid groups to “use local suppliers first.” Haitians are already showing “a spirit of solidarity,” with local telecom companies offering free service and ordinary people opening their homes to the displaced. “Each initiative deserves our encouragement, deserves to be celebrated, in this society that does not say often enough, ‘Thank you!’”
Will our leaders “heed the message of the hurricane”? asked Berthony Dupont in Haiti-Liberte.com. The Haitian government “always acts as a firefighter,” in panic mode, struggling to cope with each natural disaster. Why can it never create any infrastructure to prevent or at least plan for these emergencies? This hurricane, coming as it does right before an election, may be the shock the political class needs. Candidates always “promise mountains and marvels” and then forget the poor once they get in office. Haiti’s real curse is not earthquakes or hurricanes. It is “the cruel reality of a recurring electoral sham.”