Urgent Need for Congress to Act for Haiti

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Photo taken in Haiti by Lutheran World ReliefIt is urgent that Congress approve a generous aid relief and reconstruction package that supports a sustainable, decentralized, Haitian-led recovery as soon as possible. A delay in approving the supplemental will postpone much needed efforts in Haiti and affect the replenishment of the International Disaster Assistance account, damaging the U.S. government's ability to address humanitarian crises around the globe.

Here are reports from media and partner organizations with relief efforts in Haiti. With well over a million people living in makeshift camps as the rainy season starts, and with hurricane season starting in June, relief must come to address this increasingly desperate situation now.

"Homeless Haitians: Out of the Papers but Still Our Responsibility"  

Over 218,000 survivors are living in makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince at immediate grave risk of flooding and landslides.

In the minds of too many of the privileged and the powerful, post-earthquake Haitian society has become little more than a faded photograph. Survivors' shelter and medical needs are no longer in focus or in vogue and too many relief efforts are being shortchanged. Virtually nothing is being done by either the Haitian government or international actors for those who will be flooded out of their squatter camps. Large-scale food aid—often distributed inequitably—has nearly run dry. —Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service, "Homeless Haitians: Out of the Papers but Still Our Responsibility ," Huffington Post, May 3, 2010.

"Those Who Survived the Earthquake Face the Threat of Hunger"
anice st. george - photo by lwr
Many families in their village are experiencing a similar struggle. Caring for relatives who survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince and returned to Ivoire has diminished family food supplies. Prices in the market are rising, people do not have money to purchase food, and communities that Lutheran World Relief works with report that out of sheer desperation they have eaten seeds originally reserved for this season's planting.

Nearly 600,000 Haitians have fled Port-au-Prince since the earthquake, returning to impoverished rural towns for sustenance. The result of this reverse migration to the countryside is a crisis of extreme proportion for rural Haiti. Those that survived the earthquake now face the threat of hunger and feel the burden of driving their home communities into deeper poverty. Click here to read the story of one young man's struggle in the aftermath of the earthquake.  —Lutheran World Relief

"The Camp Residents Live in Shacks Made of Tarps and Rags"
A view by Jesuit Refugee Service of a visit to the Automeca 11,000-person camp

The president of the Automeca camp, elected by the IDP community to represent their interests, reports that only three food distributions had been made by the World Food Program in the past three months and none since February.

Automeca Camp residents live in shacks made of tarps and rags inches from one another with little or no privacy. They are forced to live in sordid overcrowded tents with dirt floors permeable by the rain… There are no schools, no electricity, poor sanitation and water that is barely potable and often brings on diarrhea in children and adults. Drainage at Automeca consists of shallow ditches running between rows of tents, a hazard even when dry, when it rains they flood and a cascade of garbage and muck rushes thru the camp toward the lower sections…

It should be noted that 80% of all officially sanctioned camps, which amount to a little under 600 camps in all, have no camp managers. While some in the international community have claimed that 91% of all earthquake victims have been reached, we have noted that many have only received one, two, or three aid deliveries. The international coordination seems to have failed many of the residents in the camps until now, and we fear that with malaria, typhoid, and tetanus on the rise, the death toll in the coming months will climb precipitously….

The people in all "unofficial camps" throughout the city receive little to no care from large aid organizations and the international coordinating bodies. JRS calls on the Haitian Government and the International community to address the needs of those in official and "unofficial" camps alike, and to continue to distribute aid to those in unofficial camps until such time as these camp residents are offered a safe and tenable place where they might settle during the emergency phase.  —Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, "Camp by Camp Needs Analysis," 5/3/10 Update

"Despair Grows on Devastated Street in Haiti"

If Avenue Poupelard bustled with a desperate, survivalist energy two weeks after the earthquake, it now emits a low-level hum as residents, vendors and business owners adjust to the snail-like pace of this shattered city's recovery.

On this centrally located street, the state of emergency is clearly over: the corpses have disappeared, the stench of death has lifted and the foreign doctors who took over the community clinic have gone home. Louis Fils, a 66-year-old coffin maker who churned out wooden boxes for premium prices right after the quake, is holding a liquidation sale.

But Avenue Poupelard is still a tableau of destruction, dotted with a few signs of progress: some newly hammered kiosks, towers of debris dredged from shells of buildings, and uniformed children under tarps in one wrecked school's courtyard.

"Some of them are still so sad," said Émile Jean Louis, whose Compassion of Jesus School reopened under tarps this month. "Look at these little girls lying on their desks! They don't sleep well, and they're probably hungry. I wish I could offer them a hot meal. But without help from the government, I'm operating on a budget of faith."

Avenue Poupelard provides a less encouraging picture of the reach of aid, services and information than that found in official situation reports. Tucked into encampments too small to have attracted the nongovernmental groups operating in the big tent cities, many on Avenue Poupelard increasingly feel that they are on their own. —Deborah Sontag, "Despair Grows on Devastated Street in Haiti," New York Times, April 27, 2010.

"Dust from the Street Is Eating Us"

Micheline Fleuron lives with her two boys in the median on the road in Carrefour. Her home, the pile of rubble across the street from where she is now, collapsed during the earthquake and killed her seven-year-old daughter. Before the earthquake Micheline had a small business selling food items. She lost that in the earthquake. She says food aid has been distributed near where she is but she has not been able to get any of it. She says hunger is difficult and "dust from the street is eating us." See this short film on Micheline Flueron's living situation. —Ben Depp, Mennonite Central Committee, April 8th, 2010

All internally displaced persons have the right to an adequate standard of living. Prolonged assistance to Haiti would help to ensure that earthquake victims like Micheline Flueron receive the aid that they need to feed their children and begin rebuilding their lives in spaces that are healthy and that meet international standards.

The contrast between the aid being delivered to the Tabarre Issa site with the general lack of aid being delivered to other sites and groups of displaced people is sparking a fair bit of controversy in Haiti. What I hear again and again from Haitians in the market, on the street and in tap-taps is, "We have not received any help. We hear on the radio that all of this aid is being pledged to Haiti, so why are we still living under bedsheets?" My sense is that there is a growing sense of despair among Haitians that were victim to the earthquake (many of whom have not received any aid because they are not staying in the more visible and publicized IDP camps). —Alexis Erkert Depp, Mennonite Central Committee

"Relocated Haitians Face Bleak Reality"
Haitians relocated from the Petion ville Golf Club are far from jobs and with little relief.

In the area of Koray there are no trees. After four in the afternoon, the mosquitos reign. Around this sizeable camp, which will be receiving internally displaced people from more than five other camps in Petion ville and Delmas, are deforested mountains that the victims have as a mural to look at during the day. One doesn't have to ask how this plain, filled with little tents, is affected by rainfall.

Imagine that you are on a plain without trees, with nothing but dirt and deforested mountains surrounding you, and you hear that there will be more than five hours of rainfall…

The victims have been displaced to an area without trees, without water, mixed with dust and burning sun, and a wind that declares war against the people, tearing up tents that wouldn't hold up for two months even without wind….

Joseph was a refugee in the Petion ville Golf Club with his two children; today he is one of the victims who live in the isolation of camp Koray. In his tent, Joseph has rice and oil he received two days ago, but he has no means to cook the food because he doesn't have a stove or any of the other ingredients to prepare food.

Hunger in the desert is like running from the rain and falling in the river, according to Joseph. The most grave aspects of Joseph's case is that all of his family are in Port-au-Prince, and it was in the lower part of the city where he could find work hauling loads to buy food for himself and his children. Now he is dispensable – condemned to this high desert until he is deported the same humiliating way." (Etant Dupain, posted at Haiti Response Coalition website , April 27, 2010.)