PORT-AU-PRINCE – “You are the first foreigners we have seen here”, said Pierre Ronald. Standing beside a group of thirty Haitians sheltering from the midday sun, Mr Pierre said in Carrefour, one of the worst-hit areas of Port-au-Prince, no aid had been delivered.
Visibly agitated, he exclaimed – “we need food, water, doctors – but one week after the disaster, nothing!”
“Do you know anyone who can help? Can you tell people we are here, without anything, please?”
Aidworkers are trying their best, after overcoming immense difficulties even getting into the country. The seaport is damaged, the airport has only one small runway, limiting access from outside.
Haiti’s limited infrastructure has taken a hammering – blocked, or clogged with chaotic traffic, with most of the police not showing up for work since the earthquake. Many people have been killed and others are looking for missing family members.
The lack of police causes other problems for survivors. “We need security too,” said Arnaud, standing next to Pierre. Before the earthquake Arnaud made a living as an artist, and perhaps not known to many outside the country, Haiti had popular and thriving arts/culture scene prior to the disaster. But now he is more concerned about marauding thugs intent on looting and stealing.
“We have set up our own group here to protect women and children. At night, we all sleep here in the open,” pointing to a shabbily-painted playground close to the city’s harbour.
Around this shell of a city, thousands of people await assistance. While there are incidents of looting and violence, people are eager to talk and desperate for help. Most of the trouble, they say, is being caused by the 4000 prisoners who escaped, unscathed, when the city’s jail was destroyed in the earthquake.
US soldiers are deploying across the city, though the numbers so far are short of the 10,000 discussed last week. UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon has asked for extra UN peacekeepers to bolster the Brazilian-led force that has been in Haiti since the country was ransacked by political violence in 2004.
But after squabbles between France and the US over access to the airport, now run by the Americans, another turf war looms over command-and-control of the various foreign armies in the country, and who-does-what, in terms of dealing with troublemakers and protecting aid deliveries and aid workers.
But the people just want help. Taxi driver Chevalier Jean-Claude was standing on the street, close to his home in Carrefour, one of the worst hit districts in Port-au-Prince, when the quake hit.
“For thirty, maybe thirty-five seconds, buildings were moving, falling. People were running, screaming,” he said.
Unlike many other Haitians, he did not lose any family. His wife and seven children are alive.
However his car was destroyed as his house collapsed onto the street.
“I have no money, no house, and no way to feed my family”, he said.
Even if he had his car, there is little or no fuel available. At the few still-intact petrol stations around the city, people queued in the hot sun, with funnels and jerrycans, to get whatever they could.
Like hundreds of thousands of Haitians, they will sleep on the street again tonight. Traumatized by last week’s disaster, many will not venture indoors lest aftershocks topple the thousands of half-standing buildings around the city. Riverine cracks running up and across walls and facades are reminders that it is not safe to go indoors.
An even stronger reminder came this(Wednesday morning, when the city was roused by a 6.1 aftershock at around 5am.
Damaged buildings will need to be knocked and replaced. But for now food, medicine, security are needed. The airport has one small runway, and can accommodate only 6 aircraft on the ground, at one time. Not enough to facilitate the vast quantities of material needed to help 3 million people affected by the disaster.
It is not for the want of trying on the part of aidworkers. Irish NGO GOAL is helping set up a field hospital and is bringing in nurses to attend to the thousands of wounded.
Darren Hanniffy leads the GOAL operation in the shattered Haitian capital. “Today we will distribute food and shelter to 300 families in one of the worst hit areas of Port-au-Prince,” he said.
GOAL is working with an Israeli team of medics to assist in building temporary medical facilities. “We are supporting the construction of a field hospital, and a team of volunteer nurses is on its way. People on the ground here are working 24/7 to get help to the people,” Hanniffy said.
Elsewhere other NGOs and medical volunteers are working around the clock, with limited supplies to deal with legions of injured. The bottleneck at the international airport means that medical supplies are slow to arrive, though things are picking up now.
Judy is a Haitian nurse who lives in Miami. She flew home hours after the earthquake to help out, and is now working at a temporary hospital close to the main UN office in Haiti. She said patients are dying from treatable infections after being wounded in the earthquake.Show