PORT-AU-PRINCE — Much of Haiti’s capital lies in ruins after the devastating January 12 earthquake. Up to 200,000 people are thought to have died, many now buried in mass graves outside the city. Hundreds of thousands more are homeless, sleeping in the open or in makeshift camps cobbled together with whatever blankets or sheeting people could get hold of. Delivering sufficient quantities of emergency assistance to so many people is proving a logistical nightmare, with the already limited Haitian infrastructure pulverized by the disaster.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti President René Préval on Wednesday said that the country’s legislative elections would be postponed indefinitely due to the impact of the Jan. 12 earthquake. “The electoral campaign should have opened tomorrow and for obvious reasons, that won’t be able to happen,” Préval said in an interview at his temporary office. The change of plans stands in stark contrast to the Burmese junta, which didn’t let the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 get in the way of a nationwide constitutional referendum that proceeded as planned mere days later.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Almost two years later, Brian Casey is visibly baffled and infuriated by the callous indifference shown by the Burmese junta to the Nargis disaster and its aftermath, not to mention its deliberate obstruction of assistance to its own people. “If you leave dead bodies floating in lakes and floodwater you facilitate the spread of water-borne diseases. If you prevent or ignore the need to send medical supplies, you ensure that people have no defense against these diseases,” Casey said. “It is my firm belief that the junta sought to create a second emergency after the cyclone, a second wave of death from disease, hunger, thirst and neglect.”
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Rachel Voltaire shuffled disconsolately on a narrow, rubble-strewn lane which runs alongside a camp set up to shelter 700 Haitian survivors of the January 12 earthquake. The area is called Delmas, one of Port-au-Prince’s worst-hit suburbs. Buildings lie flattened, and the locals say that many bodies remain underneath. Ms Voltaire’s story is a harsh mix of tragedy and Kafkaesque catch-22 that makes her downbeat demeanour all the more understandable. “ I was kicked out of the US coz I didn’t have no green card”, she drawled. She arrived back in Haiti just days before the earthquake, her five children split between cousins in Georgia and an ex-husband in Miami. “I ain’t got family left here, more than twenty were killed in the earthquake. My mom, my sisters, their kids, everyone.” She has savings in Citibank, but all the branches in Port-au-Prince were destroyed
PORT-AU-PRINCE — “Why is there not enough for everybody”, said Clement, who walked a mile uphill on Port-au-Prince’s narrow, debris-strewn streets to get to one of the first aid deliveries to some of the estimated 3 million Haitians affected by the earthquake. Around the stricken Caribbean capital last week, dozens of groups in different parts of the city who said that they had not received any aid one week after the disaster.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Screaming as the doctor cleaned and dressed her leg, Lenas then lay back on the bed, drawing breath and, after a couple of minutes, regaining her composure. “The ground shook for at least thirty seconds, I never knew anything like it,” she said, speaking in Haitian Creole. “When it was over I was buried. The house was down around me, dust everywhere. I thought I was dead for sure.” Lenas, 25, spent five hours under the rubble, her leg crushed.
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?”
PORT-AU-PRINCE — In ‘The Comedians’, Graham Greene called Haiti the nightmare republic. But for the past few days in Haiti, truth has been more nighmarish than fiction after an estimated 140,000 people were killed in last week’s earthquake. The international relief operation appears to be struggling, meaning that time is running out for the estimated 3 million Haitians affected by the disaster, people now injured, homeless, without food and water. There seems to be little hope for those still trapped alive under the rubble as the risk of disease grows by the hour — and with each passing hour the prospect of rescue diminishes.
FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.
DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 10 pounds, Ayaan is among nearly 100,000 Ethiopian children whose lives are at risk. Just four days before her first birthday, she is lighter than an average 3-month-old baby. A clinic at Kersi, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, has seen an increasing number of such cases in recent weeks, as have locations across the south and west of the country. Much of the land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In more than a dozen villages outside the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite suppressant, and local culture means that children often eat only after adults. As the doctor at the Kersi clinic told The Washington Times, “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry.”